Nate Klug is the author of Rude Woods, a modern translation of Virgil’s Eclogues (Song Cave, 2013), and Anyone, a book of poems (University of Chicago Press, 2015). He works as a UCC-Congregationalist minister and has served churches in Connecticut and Iowa. His poem “Aporia” can be found here. It appears along with another poems in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of the Kenyon Review.
What was your original impetus for writing “Aporia”?
In 2011-2012, I worked for a year as a hospital chaplain in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My training for ministry mandated my participation in such a program, but it quickly became more than a requirement. The hospital was its own world (complete with indoor waterfall), still intact in my memory. I got to know some of the patients and parking attendants and ER nurses; I ate countless meals in the cafeteria; and I slept there during many “on-call” overnights, sometimes in the maternity unit, if there were no other free beds.
One of the chaplain’s main responsibilities was to be present at deaths, and then attend to the patient’s family. I had always hoped to be able to write about some of what happened during these encounters, but many powerful memories also felt off-limits as subject matter. I did put one notebook poem about the hospital in Anyone. Then, three years after I stopped working there, “Aporia” emerged. I’ve been present at several deaths in my ministry work since, and I suppose the poem is an amalgamation of a few “end of life” moments. The suddenness and irresolvable absoluteness of a body taking its final breaths—which an observer recognizes as final only in retrospect—is part of what I wanted to explore, as opposed to other kinds of endings that experience constructs.
How has your writing or writing process changed since you started out?
I have been conscious, in my newer poems, of trying to work in more extended modes, pushing out my lines and aiming beyond one page (or one sentence!). It’s a tricky balance between finding what one can do decently and avoiding imitation of oneself or others. As these KR poems demonstrate, I am still fond of the brief, instant-centered lyric.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
It’s not quite non-writing-related, but my work as a minister has been, overall, a fine complement to poetry. First of all, it’s allowed me to experience different cultures up-close in very different parts of the country: suburban and inner-city Connecticut, rural Iowa, and now the Bay Area of California. Second, people everywhere are fascinating, and ministry often feels like a privilege because of the window it affords into others’ lives. Third, the Reformed Protestant tradition that I get to work in and think in has provided a helpful psychic lifeboat to writing, the emphasis on grace alone and God’s otherness most welcome when I feel most impatient or ambitious. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
What is either the best or the worst piece of writing advice you’ve received or given?
I don’t know that I have received or given much general writing advice, good or bad. (Though I guess the Milton line above could count!) I read biographies of writers and ask poets about their lives, the decisions they make, what they prioritize. But that’s more about not feeling alone, as opposed to gleaning any particular nugget of wisdom. In the face of the arbitrary luck of a poem, the concept of advice seems funny; as Elizabeth Bishop wrote somewhere, the hundred random elements that must collide in order for a poem to come together can’t owe much to planning. Plus, to me, people seem very different from each other, and often cursed by what we wish for—how dare impose an ambition on someone else? I do like the Joy Williams essay where she says, “The writer writes to serve—hopelessly he writes in the hope that he might serve—not himself and not others, but that great cold elemental grace which knows us.”
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I am working on a new collection of poems and translations, with a bunch of pieces about the strangeness of time. I’m also hoping to write a few more essays about the intersection of poetry and ministry.