3 Questions for Grant Clauser For Miriam Sagan’s Blog
1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
I guess you could say I’m a fan of the poetic line. It’s a tool, like a hammer, and it can be used carefully, even delicately or brutally. I’m often suspicious of prose poems (though I’ve written them, so I’m a hypocrite) that don’t take advantage of such an important tool. The line is as much a part of the poem as the rhythm, sound and sense. I tend to use enjambment a lot, which doesn’t help a listener much, but can be a guide for the reader. I’m also a fan of the medial caesura, mostly as a tension-builder/breaker.
How I use them… there are probably multiple ways, but one rule I have for myself is to try to avoid ending lines with throw-away words. You don’t (at least I don’t) have a lot of space to work with in a poem, so make every word do as much work as possible. If you’re going to call special attention to a word by putting it at the beginning or end of a line, then make sure that word deserves the attention. Sometimes there are tradeoffs, judgments to make. I’m also a fan of balance in poems, so I try to keep lines reasonably equal in meter and length. I like that decisions like that can be so important to us.
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
I can’t say I really do. I’m mostly projecting outside myself, rather than inside when I’m writing. Physically I need to be comfortable and in a quiet space while writing, though I’ve done some writing on cramped airplanes (I travel a lot for my job), though not often. I prefer the tactile feel of typing a poem on a computer to writing it out by hand, but that’s probably more out of habit (and the ease of editing) than anything else.
I have a fairly comfortable relationship with my body. It does what I need it to. Now that I think about it, I feel pretty much the same way about my poems. I’m happy with them, but they can always use a little improving. As the years go on I know that eventually the body won’t hold up, but I hope the poems do.
3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
I guess I don’t like that I can’t (or don’t feel comfortable) talking about being a poet with my non-poet friends and colleagues. My day job isn’t at a university, so poetry isn’t something that comes up a lot in conversation. If I mentioned at a lunch meeting that I was into sword swallowing or bug eating, I still think I’d get weirder looks for telling people I did a poetry reading the night before. Even most people I know who were former college English majors haven’t read any poetry since it was required of them in British Lit 2.
While I wish poetry received more respect in our society, I’m very happy with what poetry has done for me. Poetry forces introspection and focus at a level most people don’t bother with. Poetry requires an awareness of things, a study of relationships, an ability to translate situations into precision. I don’t think I’d be doing those things if poetry hadn’t created the habit in me.
From Necessary Myths:
Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show
We came for sights and smells,
distractions of giant beets
and blue-ribbon goats,
but at the taxidermy tent we find
a body mounted, badly stitched and
held into a suckling pose
by wires hidden in the neck,
a calf that may or may not
have been more than we expected,
and who expects these things?
Not the calf as it entered the world
watching itself watching itself
slide out onto the sharp padding
of straw, strong hands pulling
at its legs. One heart, one spine
branching like a river
with two mouths to the sea
and for a brief moment
they both gasp, breath
struggling down a pair
of clotted throats, a god’s
joke that let the gentle eyes
open long enough to see
each other’s own lovely brown eyes
slowly close, the one heart too shocked
to bring legs up for balance
and finally those farmers hands let go.
So now under a sun hot tent
we reach out to touch it,
holding hands but looking away,
thinking of the big coffee eyes
the moment one person knows before the other
that the fight for air is over
when one heart’s not enough
for both of us.
Grant Clauser’s latest book new book, Necessary Myths was the winner of the 2013 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize from Broadkill River Press (www.thebroadkillriverpress.com) He’s also the author of The Trouble with Rivers and has poems in or forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Literary Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Cortland Review, Seattle Review, Tipton Review and others. In 2010 he was Montgomery County Poet Laureate. By day he writes about electronics and daydreams about fly fishing. He teaches poetry writing at conferences and Musehouse and runs the blog http://www.unIambic.com.