Illustration by Matt Manley

Notes on "Ideas for a project beyond survival"

Caroline Klocksiem

Ideas for a project beyond survival

A friend says my picture looks like I am throwing a dazzling parade of ideas. I don’t have any ideas for a project beyond survival. This is from a project I am calling Survival. What am I currently working on? I am currently working on not getting sick/fired/overdrafted/divorced. I am currently working on forms and checks, not forgetting fucking milk. I am currently fixing the broken chain-link fence out back. I stand up in front of an audience and confess that I am working on fixing a broken fence. I confess that I tether one link to another with bread ties and zip ties, their angles just like two metal jaw bones joined together. The storm last night transformed the fence into a web which has captured all the stray news with the force of the wind pushed up against it, the tension like breathing in and out of a plastic shopping bag. Each space its own display of fragments. Why am I fixing the fence of a house that is not mine? Against this decoration I feel so plain. Why am I fixing anything? Am I fixing anything? I don’t know. The other day, a capitalist asked me do you only write poetry?


One of the most significant ways in which being a parent to two young children has challenged me is in the way it’s affected my writing and my relationship with writing. Specifically—

Time. Because I rarely have time to write, I can’t tinker with a line over and over. I have ten minutes between the time I wrap up work for the day, and have to go pick up my kids. I want to write in this space; I have to make choices and live with them. Publication. Because I send out work much less during this phase of my life, I sometimes catch myself thinking that it doesn’t matter what I write, because I don’t expect it will reach much of a readership. I am writing for me and only me. I don’t know if that’s good. Sometimes it bums me out. Sometimes it’s unbelievably liberating.

Money. Poetry isn’t free. Poetry doesn’t feed my children or pay the rent or childcare or student loans or doctor bills or utility bills or any of the other survival expenses I am constantly acutely aware of. Poetry is time and time is expensive. Sending out manuscripts costs. Time costs.

So, I stop writing poems when I need to survive. But I also write poems when I need to survive.

Sometimes I stop writing for long periods of time, and I think I’m done for good…but then I tend to return to this habit of poetry. This habit I’ve kept since the second grade, when I discovered that writing could help me cope with my parents’s tumultuous divorce. This thing is too valuable to me not to do. It is valuable for me to live in language, and it is valuable for us to remember that there is a currency other than dollars.

Caroline Klocksiem

Caroline Klocksiem’s chapbook, "Circumstances of the House and Moon," is available from Dancing Girl Press. Her poems have appeared in such journals as The Iowa Review; Hayden’s Ferry Review; CutBank; The Pinch; BlazeVOX; H_NGM_N; Super Arrow; and others. She is a Swarthout Award and Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship recipient. Originally from South Carolina, she lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with her family, where she teaches at the University of Alabama. Read more at

Illustration by Matt Manley. Matt has been working as a freelance illustrator for over twenty years. His illustration is primarily figurative and symbolic with surrealist leanings, and past client work includes editorial, corporate, medical, book, and higher education. Though in the end his work is technically digital collage, the process integrates both traditional and digital media. Collage elements are original oil paintings and drawings, with occasional scanned found objects and photos added to the mix, all united in Photoshop .