Grant Clauser’s poetry manuscript Reckless Constellations was recently announced winner of the 2016 Cider Press Review Editors’ Prize and will be published in January 2018. Another poetry collection, The Magician’s Handbook, is forthcoming from PS Books.
In addition to being a poet, teacher, and editor, Grant Clauser is a husband and father who works by day as a technology writer. He has two books of poetry in circulation — Necessary Myths (Broad Kill River Press) and The Trouble with Rivers (Foothills Publishing) — and his work has appeared in some pretty impressive journals including The American Poetry Review, Cincinnati Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, The Journal, and of course, The Good Men Project.
Grant was kind enough to answer a few questions about work, writing, being a good man, and how those things tend to overlap.
As you say in your bio, you work as a technology writer “by day.” What kind of overlaps do you see between that kind of writing and your creative work?
Surprisingly very little. My money job is to write and edit articles about home electronics, and I’ve done that for close to 20 years. My poetry almost never includes any reference to technology. In part I think that’s because poetry is a way to wash off the daily work stuff, like changing into play clothes after coming home from school. However, after staring at words all day, it can often be hard to get motivated to create more words at night. I also think my creative writing has influenced my work writing more than the other way around. I’m more careful in my word choices and sentence shape for it, and I tend to use a lot of metaphors in my tech writing.
Similar to the last question, you’ve worked as an editor at Mid-American Review, Janus, and Toad Highway. Do you see a continuum between your editor self and your writer self? Has your work as an editor impacted the way you see your own writing?
One thing I’ve learned, having worked on several journal over a period of about 25 years, is to not be too quick to judge or too overconfident in my judgements. This has necessary parallels in my writing. I’m a very different reader of poetry now, being nearly 50 years old, than I was as a 20-something grad student reading submissions for the Mid-American Review. I appreciate things in poetry now that I would have been quick to dismiss then. Maybe I regret those young, rash decisions; but maybe that’s a necessary phase. Check back with me when I’m 70 and see if I’ve changed my mind. I’m now helping out a wonderful online publication, Cleaver magazine, with craft essays and poetry submissions. I think editing takes a great amount of patience and compassion, as well as a dose of self reflection–are the decisions I’m making based on my aesthetic only? Are my views too narrow or not narrow enough? Am I seeking to appreciate or seeking to dismiss? Editing a literary publication, no matter how small the reach, is a big responsibility. Creative writing by necessity is saturated in emotional connections, and editors owe it to both submitters and readers to treat that responsibility with humility. In fact, the main reason my own journal, Toad Highway, ended was because I failed in that responsibility.
Tell us a little bit about your new book.
I actually have two books coming out, which is crazy exciting and surprising. The first, The Magician’s Handbook (coming from PS Books), is a weird kind of book that mixes the life an invented character (the magician) with carnival oddities, occult references, undead, suburban mythology and some domestic moments rescued from my own life. The recurring character is an awkward, not terribly successful, stage magician who lets his magic life weave in and out of his day-to-day existence. It wouldn’t be too hard for someone to draw parallels to him with the life of a writer. The overall push is about experiencing the magic in the mundane.
The second book, Reckless Constellations, won the Cider Press Review Editors Award. That book spends a lot of time looking back at my semi-delinquent teenage years and some of the people I knew then, a few who are gone. It’s not completely autobiographical–none of my poems are. When reality doesn’t fit the poem, I edit reality. A lot of it is an elegy to a time period–that time being the mid-80s. The book then moves into the common scenery of a person wandering through middle age–family, debt, pessimism, optimism, nostalgia–and hopefully finding a way of fitting in, which I believe is the subject of most poetry.
What does “being a good man” mean to you? Does your understanding of “good manhood” manifest in your poetry in any tangible ways?
I think that’s an aspiration, one I’m sure I don’t measure up to. Hopefully my poems show a respect for others’ uniqueness and selfhood, and that seems to be essential to being a good anything. I mentioned above about the poems process of finding a way to fit in. Fitting in can’t include squeezing others out. Fitting in is communal. So much in the world today seems to be about separating people, putting some ideas or goals above others. Maybe I lean a little socialist here, but the way the country is going is completely compassionless, at least if you follow news and political trends. The greed, selfishness and protectionism that has swept up so much of our culture is very disturbing, and contrary to the concept of all-are-welcome and all-have-value. But to your question about whether it manifests in my poetry? Honestly, I don’t know.
Maleness, like whiteness, typically flies under the radar as an “unmarked category.” Male privilege means most guys can afford to not think about gender. And yet being a man in the twenty-first century United States carries with it certain assumptions and expectations. While of course we can’t speak in absolutes, do you think that most men writing today are displaying in their work any kind of awareness of the complex concerns of contemporary men?
I guess if contemporary men with complex concerns are writing, then the answer is yes. While Robert Bly explored that territory in the 80s and 90s with Iron John and the men’s movement, right now I’d look toward writers like Ross Gay, Kevin Young, Saeed Jones, D. Nurske, David Bottoms, and going back a few years further, Galway Kinnell. You could say that Philip Levine’s poetry, especially What Work Is, deals with the idea of maleness, or what it means to be a man in the crumbling environment of industrially humiliated Detroit. For myself, I don’t begin a new poem with any sense of what it’s trying to say or accomplish. I begin with language and imagery–something I can work with, like looking around the toolshed and deciding what I can make with what I have. If it’s available, i.e. if it’s part of me, then it goes in the poem.
Interested in submitting poetry to The Good Men Project? Check out our guidelines.
Photo courtesy of the author.