Clyde Wray: Saint John’s Storyteller

Clyde Wray is a poet, a writer, a performer, a producer, and a storyteller. When he speaks it’s in the low rumble of thunder, the room trembles, and small mammals go scampering for the hills. Any occasion to read his words is an opportunity lost that you might have heard them aloud. Most importantly though, Clyde is alive, and he wants you to know that. It’s a relatively common condition, and thus a relatable one, but Clyde embraces it with the full of his being; waking at hours most people would consider death defying, “I don’t like sleeping. I’ve been up now since three o’clock this morning. I like being up, I like being awake, I like being able to have a thought, I like seeing the stars and the moon, I like being in the sun, I like to see the sun go down. It’s all very romantic. I like being in life.”

His exuberant approach to life seems to stem from an uncomfortable familiarity with its absence. While there’s no doubt that Clyde has always possessed the deepest wellspring of vigor to draw from, the traumatic first-hand experience of modern warfare has bolstered his everyday zeal, “I’ve gone through some things in my life that allow me to have a real appreciation of being here. Being anywhere. The fact that I’m here and I’m having this conversation with you, I can appreciate that small moment for what it is, and that means being in the moment, being in the now, and not somewhere else.”

“The fact that you get up in the morning, put your feet on the floor, and you take your first breath? Everything else is candy!”

“I made that trip to Vietnam, and that changes everything. That changes your whole perspective for the rest of your life. Any kind of conflict that men get into changes how you are going to view life. The fact that you wake up in the morning, and you take your first breath, that, in that moment, is an appreciation of life, because you know that you were there with eighteen, nineteen year old people who didn’t get the chance to wake up and breath. Essentially, in my life, that is there; it will always be there, which is why I put myself in the moment, which is why I do the things that I do. You have days that are coming up like Remembrance day, or in the states, Veterans Day or Memorial Day, and it always brings you back. Always. Those days it seems I can’t write anything else but something that has something to do with a conflict. Emotionally I’m still attached to it. It doesn’t matter whose conflict it is; the fact that it’s a conflict of one sort or another means you become emotionally attached to it; instinctively you know what those gentlemen are going through.”

As Clyde tells it, he has a bit of Gypsy in him. There’s a reluctance to settle down in any one place for any great length of time. It’s made a world traveler of him. The sentiment extends to his work habits; he’s worn many hats in his industry, and refuses to be pegged down. When asked just what kind of a poet he is, he leaps up like bacon on a hot skillet and shouts, “I’m not!” It’s been a long standing practice that reaches back to his first experiences as a writer, “When I first started out, the one thing that I didn’t want to do is get attached to [The Vietnam War] because, back then, if someone wrote something, and they happened to be a Vietnam veteran, or a veteran of any sort, the first thing they would say is ‘Oh, he’s a Vietnam veteran’, or, ‘He’s that kind of writer’, so they would immediately put you in that box. I stayed away from that for as long as I could, until I felt relatively comfortable with myself, so when that experience arises I don’t have to avoid it, I can write about it, or attach myself to it, and it doesn’t make me that type of writer. It just makes me a writer.”

Clyde Wray (John England/The East)
Clyde Wray (John England/The East)

Though creativity had been a mainstay in Clyde’s upbringing, having attended classes at The Hudson Guild, he didn’t embrace the lifestyle fully until his experiences in Vietnam indirectly unlocked his potential as a writer. Upon his return to America, he was placed in a VA hospital, and began the challenge of learning to cope with PTSD, “I was in the process of getting divorced, and I wrote a small piece for my oldest daughter, because I really wanted to tell her something, and my social worker at the time said, ‘You know, Clyde, I think you should keep doing that.’ As much as I wanted to keep that door closed, at that moment, the door opened, and I knew that whatever it was that I wanted to do, I hope I got it done, because this is it!”

“I wanted someone to read it. I knew I may be crazy, but I wanted to know how crazy I am.”

“Writing may have been the last thing that I wanted to do. I come from a family full of artists, in their own right, and actors, and performers. My mother was the quintessential stage-mother, so she was always feeding starving artists. I would come home and see them in my house, and ask ‘Why are you here?’ and they would tell else, ‘Well, we’re ACTORS!’, so I spent most of my life running away from the fact that I was a writer or performer. It’s not what I wanted to do. I remember sitting there in that moment though saying, ‘I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know what it’s going to do, or what I’m going to wind up doing, but this is it’. It was very conscientious, it was at a point in my life, really, where I would make decisions that literally came down to if I’m going to get something to eat with this dollar, or am I going to get it printed. And it was always to get it printed.”

After living in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and a bit of wandering, Clyde and his wife Kelli moved to Saint John from Halifax, eight years ago. In that time Clyde has become a pillar in the theatre community. It seems that barely a production goes by that he can’t be found onstage, backstage, or somewhere in the wings. During the daytime, he can often be found in his ‘office’, usually Prince William Street’s Magnolia Café, working out his next project, or producing one of his poems that appear daily on his website. “I was born in New York. Bronx! Bronx, New York! We migrated to Manhattan, and we lived on 27th street and 10th avenue, and Greenwich Village was sort of our playground, the old Greenwich Village. I grew up in a neighbourhood that was as diverse as any place that I’ve ever been. I think that’s why I recognise Saint John as a city with so much talent. It’s because where I was raised, I could sit here and just name drop for you, right? Of the people that came from this small little area called Chelsea. But the people that came out of there you now see in the movies, you turn on your television and you see them, making the big bucks, and that was the same sort of environment that Saint John has; the diversity, the culture, the musicians, the artists, the dancers that are here, the actors that are here…” Clyde has  been one of Saint John’s Arts Community’s most ardent supporters, a perpetual champion, but with that comes the recognition and burden of enduring its shortcomings, “Saint John really doesn’t support its artists. It’s not easy in this town if you’re an artist. I’ve been here long enough in Saint John to say this is a very very talented town, and it’s not being exploited the way I think the artists should be exploited, in the context of exposure, payment, getting their voices out there, and sometimes somebody’s got to say it, I see these guys, living, and hustling to get things done, and it’s a struggle for them to get anything done. […] I try to use the talent that’s here. You don’t have to go far, all you have to do is look for it.” As Clyde will tell you though, he always manages to do the best he can with what he’s got.

Clyde will be performing alongside singer/songwriter Debbie Adshade, at the New Brunswick Museum on November 22nd in their production of The Way We Remember. Clyde also has two books of poetry coming out early this December, ‘Banana Popsicle, Silence and a Game Of Hide N Seek’ and ‘The Not So Old, Old MAN’. To learn more about Clyde visit his webpage, or check out his Facebook profile.

 

Clyde Wray (John England/The East)
Clyde Wray (John England/The East)

 

“I’m old enough to understand that for anything that you do, and anything that you say, you’re responsible for, and there will always be repercussions. If you’re not willing to pay for the repercussion, don’t say or do something that’s going to get you into hot water. I LIKE hot water.” 

 

 

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