The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: The image of a “tar-pit bound tiger” really stuck with us—how do you balance the literal and the metaphorical in your works without worrying about distancing the reader from your speaker?
Grant Clauser: I tend to slip into metaphorical descriptions as a way to convey or heighten the emotional content. It sort of winds up the poem’s internal spring a little bit. In this case, I was caught up in the adventure aspect of a couple of kids, sneaking into a place they weren’t supposed to be, afraid of getting caught. Maybe that description over-dramatizes it, but it amused me at the time, and often that’s enough. Also there’s the sound aspect—I like how tiger resonates with wire and admired on the surrounding lines.
RR: The use of color in your work is very well-written, going from the more muted “boulders / from red to grey” into those more “bright finds, greens and yellows,” and finally into the specific “blues that looked like new / denim or the sky / reflected.” How did you discover this zooming effect?
GC: I’ve told students in workshop that you can, to some degree, control a reader’s experience of the poem by using description the way a film director uses a camera—by zooming in and out of scenes or panning across a landscape or juxtaposing views. I also believe in the effectiveness of description and narrative because that’s how we generally experience our daily lives. It’s how we greet and bond with our friends and family, and how we come to know each other. In the case of the colors in this poem—the place, an old Crayola factory (which has since closed) presented its own perfect contrasts: a falling-apart factory churning out bright art supplies for children. Inside were the factory workers whose routines lacked imagination, while outside kids were risking big trouble to create something new, something fantastic.
RR: On your personal website you mention that the writing that brings home the bread isn’t poetry but instead is writing about technology. How does this sort of writing affect your poetics?
GC: The influence probably happens the other way around. I think I’ve written one poem based on technology, and it only mentions it in a sort of ironic way in the title. I wrote it to help keep myself awake during a seminar on Google search engine optimization. Anyway, I think my practice of writing poems, which focuses the intent very closely on word choice and construction, has influenced my tech writing, so that I get very nitpicky about my articles. I also find I use more metaphors in my tech writing than maybe other people, because I find them to be very useful in explaining abstract concepts in much the same way that metaphors in poetry are good for conveying emotional content.
RR: We’re very interested in the darker imagery that occurs in the poem – the blood on the wire, the town being swallowed with ash; it’s an amazing way to convey a loss of innocence. How did you work through the narrative progression of the poem when drafting?
GC: That journey away from innocence is related to what I said in the previous question. We don’t lose innocence. We jump on our bikes and race as fast as we can to get away from it. This poem is one of the first poems in a collection coming out next year, called Reckless Constellations (Cider Press Review Books), and in it, the kids continue that journey toward their darker selves, sometimes in self-destructive ways. When I was growing up my group of friends all shared some dissatisfaction in our lives (some more deserved than others) and sometimes that was expressed in dangerous ways. This poem shows a little of the beginning of it.
RR: What are you reading these days?
GC: What I’m reading changes hourly. When I sit down to read, often I’ll stack six or ten books next to me and shuffle among them, unless one gets its claws into me and I stick with it all evening. I also read poetry books slowly because I scribble notes in the margins. The books next to me right now include Roy Bentley’s chapbook Men, Death Lies, Jennifer Givhan’s Protection Spell, the new posthumous collection, I Am Flying Into Myself by Bill Knott, and my friend Brian Beatty’s new book, Brazil, Indiana.
Grant Clauser’s work in Issue 4.2: