An Interview with Steve Clorfeine

By Diana Waldron

After passing through icy, winding roads covered with snow drifts, I came to my destination. I called Steve when I arrived at his house, and he invited me upstairs. He opened the door, welcomed me, and then started boiling water for tea.

I immediately felt the spaciousness of his house. Silence pools between the walls, creating a soft, inviting space. All of the rooms seem to breathe with each other—there is an openness that molds them, each absorbing into the other. We moved to the living room on the left. I sat on the couch, and Steve sat on the chair. Books lined shelves opposite the room, and a beautiful table stood nearby, where Steve hosts his writing workshops.

I asked what had inspired him to put this collection together. He responded that he is always writing, revising, and rewriting, and this book is the culmination of his voice(s) throughout that time. Together/Apart is Steve’s fourth poetry book. The book is a collection of poems written throughout the past seven years. After seeing a particular pattern forming, he wondered whether it could move toward becoming a book. A few delays in publishing have allowed Steve to give more focus to the material. His intention for readers is that they leave logic behind and allow themselves to be absorbed into the words of the poem, noticing what arises. Steve comments again: “I’m kind of asking people to make leaps and not figure out something, but kind of try to catch the arc of it and just ride the arc of it, and then just feel where they are at the end of that—wherever they leave off on that arc.”

Steve extracts events from his daily life and creates poetry out of the hidden spaces in between. The last poem in the book, “Note,” was inspired by different notes left by former tenants. He combined a note left by someone who lived in his New York City apartment, as well as a note left in his house in the countryside, and he added his own imagined note about what he would have written while staying in his house.

The first section of the book, “Together/Apart,” consists mostly of relationship poems. They investigate the dynamics between two people. Steve draws from his own experience, but he also explores and contemplates feelings surrounding the imagined possibilities of love and relationship.

The middle section is “Postcards,” inspired by an exercise he has come back to again and again in his writing workshops. “That’s been a collection of poems that has been around in rough and finished forms for maybe fifteen years,” he says. He continues as he explains his approach to the exercise: he spreads out a pile of postcards and asks his students to pick one and respond to it. The exercise is fairly open, and people are encouraged “to try to investigate everything about the postcard, the picture that’s on it, the way it’s addressed, the way it’s stamped and postmarked, the commercial description of what the picture is, and then the contents.” The poems in this section have been influenced by correspondence with others over a period of 50 years. Steve has recycled his postcards and letters and has invited 40 artists to transform them into artwork. The art exhibition—Correspondence—will appear in May at the Westbeth Gallery in New York City.

In his previous book, Field Road Sky, Steve’s writing was inspired by the rural isolation of living in the woods. “Events were sometimes significant just because it was the only thing that happened in a day that was an interaction with another person,” he notes. He continues on, describing his editing process: “I might go through a journal…and copy out fifty phrases or paragraphs over a period of six months or a year, and then I’d cut them up and see if there were some that fit together…like a narrative of the path across the road from where I lived.” But in this book, the last section, “Place,” is not structured the same way. Imagination serves as the potent, fertile ground from which the places in these poems spring. He comments, “I didn’t even know what I was doing until I had to say something about the book, except for the very last piece…the places here are all imagined. One is a dream though I don’t say it. A couple of them I have no idea where they came from. They’re kind of…fantastical.”

The bell from the clock tower outside rang through the empty space of the house. Steve noted the time. I placed my empty cup on the counter next to the sink, thanked him, and we said our goodbyes.