We had the good fortune of connecting with Lesley Clinton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lesley, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Writing takes time and solitude, both of which are scarce for a woman with a bustling family life, a high-energy teaching career, and meaningful volunteer commitments. I have learned to grab snippets of time for creative work. When I was a young mother, I began investing a little time whenever I could find it, writing in the middle of the night or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, then sending out my work to small online journals. With each rejection or acceptance from an editor, I gained new insight into the craft of writing and worked to improve. Wresting half-hours out of a packed day in order to produce creative work has taught me efficiency and patience. It has also prompted me to consider what value my work offers to readers. I have to fight with the schedule every day to keep this writing career going, and that struggle would prevent me from writing if I didn’t view the call to write as a both gift and an obligation. When Finishing Line Press offered a contract to publish my first chapbook of poems, I thought long and hard about the time commitment involved in marketing a book. Over time, my creative career has grown to demand more time. But with new challenges come new blessings. Now my children are old enough to share in the journey, discussing poetry edits with me and offering feedback on drafts. The kids also help my husband and I with chores, and their help allows me to create. They can take pride in each of my published pieces because they’ve contributed time that allowed those pieces to take shape. Sometimes I put off exercising or visiting with friends because I’m up against a writing deadline, Other times I miss a poetry submission window because I choose instead to enjoy a family game night or a date night with my husband. When my family needs me, writing must wait. Other times, my family offers their patience or support so that the poetry can happen. It’s a matter of discerning priorities. I’ve learned that a creative life nourishes the artist and others in surprising ways!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In the face of struggles and suffering, art can open our closed hearts and remind us to marvel at the limitless mystery of the human experience. Writing poetry is my way of adding to the world’s store of beauty and hope. Getting to where I am today has involved humility and openness to growth. I’ve spent time reading the works of master poets, refining my craft, accepting rejection, seeking out constructive criticism, and doggedly revising poems that I thought were “done” but really needed more work and time to develop. My creative career has been rich in joy. I’ve had the opportunity to perform at live events, help writers of all ages to find their voices, and encourage fellow creatives. In the process, I’ve learned about everything from marketing to interviewing, small businesses to nonprofits, and in-person to virtual event planning. Over the years, I submitted work to various literary journals, and in time a number of them accepted my poems for publication. Then, in 2020, Finishing Line Press published my debut chapbook, Calling the Garden from the Grave. This collection of poems explores our restless human yearnings and spiritual endurance, taking readers to settings as vast as the West Texas desert and intimate as a one-bedroom apartment. A diverse array of characters invites the reader to reflect on our life callings and the miraculous results that unfold when we respond to those callings with hope and courage. In my writing career, I am most proud of the reviews Calling the Garden from the Grave has received by incisive readers like J. D. Graham and Herman Sutter. Graham calls the book “a collection of well-balanced tensions — rooted in place, yet unafraid to travel; modern in tone, yet grounded in tradition,” and “deserving of careful readers.” In his review at The Poetry Cafe, Sutter says, “Read these poems, experience the beauty of their mysterious calm, their contemplative peace and the radiance of their incredible artistry. These are poems to contemplate and to nourish the soul, but they are also poems to delight and inspire. Open this book anywhere and you will find genuine poetry, and the voice of a great writer discovering her art.” (You can find these reviews at lesleyclinton.com.) It took decades to become the kind of writer who can reach readers in this way. I’ve learned that the creative impulse begins within, but genuine artists create for others, not themselves. I want to increasingly honor my readers by crafting quality works of literary art that connect people and revive world-weary souls.Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Monday: Start close to home and see the fossils at Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land. Enjoy lunch under the trees at Live Oak Grill in Stafford. Hit the bike trail at Memorial Hermann Park in Sugar Land. Eat Filipino street food for dinner at Flip ’n Patties. Cheer on the Skeeters at Constellation Field (complete with icehouse for the adults, splash pad and playground for the kids, and fireworks for everyone). Tuesday: Visit the Rothko Chapel and the Chapel of St. Basil at the University of St. Thomas. Talk over coffee and dessert at Empire Cafe. See the gems, shells, Hall of Paleontology, and Cockrell Butterfly Center Houston Museum of Natural Science. Nosh on gyros at Niko Niko’s. Laugh over tabletop games and drinks at Neil’s Bahr or enjoy a luxury movie experience in your own individual movie-viewing pod at iPic. Wednesday: Take the kids ice skating at the Galleria. Eat bánh mì and phở at Don’s on Bellaire. Fit in a run at Memorial Park. For dinner, stuff yourself with German food and flaming Coffee Goodnight while singing along with the live musicians at Rudi Lechner’s. Thursday: Amble through the Houston Zoo, let the kids roll down the hill at Hermann Park, and play some ultimate frisbee. Watch the chefs toss pizza pies at Antonio’s Flying Pizza and relish the classic Italian fare. Get cocktails at Under the Volcano. Friday: Take a day trip to NASA to touch the moon rock—or walk the trails and see the alligators at Brazos Bend State Park. Eat Texas barbeque at the Swinging Door in Richmond. Adults hit Joysticks (first and last Fridays of the month only) for classic arcade games and drinks or catch a concert at House of Blues. Saturday: Grab breakfast at TOAST and pick out some local goodies at one of the city’s many farmer’s markets. Get some artistic enrichment at the Museum of Fine Arts or forget the culture and schedule a spa treatment followed by rooftop pool lounging at Marriott Marquis. For dinner, enjoy the New Orleans ambiance and cuisine at Rouxpour. Sunday: Marvel at the beautiful historic architecture and stained glass downtown at 150-year-old Annunciation Church. Head back to Sugar Land to enjoy a waterfront lunch on the patio at Churrasco’s. Step into the vibrant fairy garden world at Enchanted Forest in Richmond and pick out some whimsical yard decor to commemorate the wonderful memories made this week. Wrap up the visit with fajitas and margaritas at Lopez Mexican Restaurant. Sit by the chiminea fire in the backyard and talk into the night, planing the next visit!Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I owe much gratitude to the Catholic Poetry Society of Houston, a subset of Catholic Literary Arts (CLA). Led by CLA Founder and President Sarah Cortez, the poetry society has helped me refine my craft, clarify my purpose, and get my work published. The group meets monthly to workshop pieces of writing and share informed discussion. Fellow members have provided mentorship and encouraged me to tackle artistic challenges. In the early days, we met in person over Sarah’s delicious homemade banana bread and coffee. In recent times, we’ve moved to remote meetings, which has allowed us to welcome new members from far and wide. I treasure the fellowship and feedback of these sharp-eyed and visionary writers, and in addition to Sarah, I must give a special shoutout to long-time members Maria Illich, Mark McNeil, and Herman Sutter, all accomplished writers whose feedback and fellowship I treasure.
Nicole Early Juanita Jaimes