Philadelphia Stories Reviews Necessary Myths

I was thrilled to check into Facebook this morning and see that Philadelphia Stories magazine had posted a new review of my book Necessary Myths. In the review Peter Baroth says:


Clauser is a master of wordcraft. There is a kind of late afternoon buzz quality to his descriptions of nature – even in PSSummerCoverits impermanence. I can definitely see the sun setting on so much of what he describes where we can find such things as “a gossiping spring between rocks…” (“The Children Discover a Spring Between Rocks”). And also perhaps, ever so vaguely, there is a yearning for a terribly remote and tenuous unfallen past. A garden that was probably already beginning to petrify moments after its creation.

Read the entire review here.

You can order your own copy of Necessary Myths from Broadkill River Press here.


On twitter @uniambic

New Review of Necessary Myths

The online literary pub Pedestal has published a new review of my book Necessary Myths. I’m flattered and honored by the response.

The reviewer says:

“Throughout Clauser’s book, we encounter this implicit prescription—we must go on with our daily work of being alive, no matter. Like a river, we proceed, sometimes wild, sometimes calm. Clauser gives us that much hope. Reminiscent of the American philosopher Henry Bugbee, he shows us the importance of place, of tasks, and of nature. His poems are imbued with a similar Western-Taoist worldview. It strikes me that Clauser is both old-fashioned and incredibly audacious.”

Find the rest of the review here.


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Book Review: Say Luck by Hayden Saunier


Of the many complements I could pay to Hayden Saunier’s second poetry collection, Say Luck,  the one that comes to mind first is that it’s fun. While there are poems of grief, doubt and anguish, those are balanced with poems of wit and awareness that ring out with gratitude for life. This ultimately is what makes the collection feel authentic and trustworthy. It’s so seldom that one can say that about a book of poems these days.

The first poem, which is also the title poem of the book, is one of my favorites. It’s in some way a reprimand for self-pity even though “Love walks down the road and death waits at the river.” and an accounting for what’s important in life—it’s a lesson in perspective:

Since you are alive and have leisure enough to read poems

I’d say luck has entered your life more than once.

The strength of Saunier’s poetry is her ability so see, to say, almost what should be obvious to us, but often isn’t. “So much goes unnoticed,” she says. The tone, diction and syntax are largely conversational even when more formal elements are used. The approach eases the reader into the poem, as if she’s letting you in on something. Usually that something comes out of a moment of illumination or discovery, as in the poem “How It Happens, Sometimes”, where an encounter with a stranger stirs a memory of the speaker’s lost mother. Other times those moments are of self-awareness “—ah yes, / you recognize your landscape now.”

A tactic Saunier is very good at is smoothly moving from, or I should say within, an image and into those moments of awareness. Sometimes it happens so subtly you hardly see it sneaking up on you, and then, there it is, some wisdom she’s dropped on your lap:

Our arguments blow over,

shake down like leaves,

all sap retracted

but we recognize the danger here:

how lumps of bullet lead

as hard and blunt

as any words we’ve said

remain suspended

            from Living by the Site of a Minor Civil War Engagement 

In passages like the one above, and many others, you see her talent for loaded lines—words and phrases casting two shadows. She moves into those lines easily, and they appear on your horizon like the crest of a hill you’ve been driving toward but didn’t know you’d reached. “The view from here / will always be the view from here, no matter / who is witness.” she writes in a poem about dealing with someone’s death.

By the end of the book, if you’ve read the poems in order, you feel as if you’ve been walked through a life, maybe as a bird sitting on the author’s shoulder, and been invited to share snippets of experience, ordinary moments and epiphanies drawn from them. She observes, catalogs, recollects, questions and offers insights, as good poets do, asking us to pay similar attention to our own surroundings.

You can find Say Luck here at Amazon.

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Book Review: Lucifer by Richard Carr

luciferIt was on a flight to Las Vegas, hell on earth, that I opened up Richard Carr’s latest book of poems Lucifer. Like Vegas, Lucifer is unique, full of sinister and untrustworthy characters, but completely worth the visit.

Lucifer is a story told in a series of 66, mostly short, poems. In the book are four main characters: Lucifer, a parasite (real or metaphorical or both) who clings “like a tick” to the narrator; a sometimes friend Mick the Bastard; and the girlfriend Juliet.

“This is my condition.” the narrator states in the opening poem, and it’s with point-blank language like that that Carr carries the reader through the narrator’s turbulent relationship with his Lucifer and the other people in the book. The narrator is a slacker, a pot-smoking bum who leaches off his girlfriend and takes people for granted. Lucifer is his constant companion, his comforter, his enabler, his co-conspirator, “Lucifer waits for me to wake and feed him. / Half dozing, I give him his due.” That sounds a little like the relationship between a mother and her infant, but no infant has ever had teeth like this.

The relationships in Lucifer frequently shift; alliances and trust are both fluid, yet Lucifer is a constant, though not always dependable companion. Like any addiction or human frailty, Lucifer is there with an answer or an excuse.

“Love rhymes with blood in the language of Hell” says the narrator. Everything that Lucifer touches is tainted, and Carr’s language leads the reader through that hell where “all the TV channels reach the same conclusion” that “Lucifer leads me slowly onward.”

This book is full of loaded lines like those cited above—language that shows the narrator’s internal struggle, his weakness, his failures: “I let everything but hunger slip away.”

Lucifer is an engaging read and one that should first be done in a single sitting (I finished it before the 5-hour flight landed). The momentum of the story requires it.

You can buy Richard Carr’s Lucifer here from Logan House Press

Review of Sower on the Cliffs by Helen Mirkil

Here’s an excerpt of a review I wrote of Helen Mirkil’s new book, Sower on the Cliffs.


Sower on the Cliffs, Helen Mirkil’s book of poems and original sketches, works on the reader like one of those evening conversations over coffee where catching up with a friend has gone on for hours, yet when it’s time to call it a night, you feel like you’ve just gotten started. That’s because Mirkil’s use of language, mostly direct, gives you a sense of a door opening up before you.
The book is divided into 10 sections, each with only two to four poems bound to a theme. Many of them are family focused, some touch on losses, issues of faith and some tender moments with loved ones. Mirkil leads each section with one of her own sketches.

Like the sketches, black ink outlines, shapes and suggestions of shapes, Mirkil’s poems also follow the less-is-more approach, and that approach yields rewards as well as surprises at times. In poems like “The Station” and “Pressing In,” she offers a few details that act like an invitation for the reader to start making discoveries.

Home again. A knocking

At the screen door,

Parkinson’s. Let it in?

Read the rest of the review here at Philadelphia Stories.

You can buy the book here on Amazon.

Review: Seven Places In America by Miriam Sagan

seven places coverFrequently while reading Miriam Sagan’s latest poetry collection, Seven Places in America, I was struck with waves of jealousy. The book is constructed around her journeys and residencies at what, at least through her writing, must be some of the most wonderful places in the country for a poet to meditate on things great and small. This is especially true for a poet like Sagan, who has an affinity for the more rustic or natural places.

Some of these places were official writers’ retreats, while others were just places that accommodated her, and she accommodated them. Either way, she made the most of these visits, as good writers can, by using the foregrounds and backdrops as gateways for her poems to pass through or stretch out within. Her poems ride “the boat of the mind/that floats on air” tacking through waterways looking for purchase. When they land on hard ground, you know it, as in “10,000 Islands,” part of a series titled Ever/Glade (which, incidentally, made me think of Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia.

I longed for departure

As if it were love

As if it would take me out

Of myself, of my accustomed way—

Sandbar of white pelicans

Lifts off, wheels into the sun

Silver flash of fish before the prow

Maze of low islands, one after the other,

Gives way

to open water.

Do you see what she did there? The very quiet leap from the silent meditation of longing for departure to the dramatic scene of birds rising and a boat rushing among islands. For me, these poems are at their strongest when she uses her environment as the A in an ongoing Q & A with themselves.

While I found poems to relish throughout the book, I think my favorites are in part V, which were written at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia, New York. Maybe being a Pennsylvanian drew me to these poems as they describe scenery very like my own home.

In the first poem in that section, Sagan uses, with dramatic effect, the refrain “body of” in a chant-like list of things you might find in any eastern woodland.


body of liberties


body of knowledge


body of research


body of principals

That’s fun, as are a lot of the poems in this book. You can feel the author’s delight coming off the page. At the same time, there are also haunting moments, such as in “Tree House,” where the speaker reflects in attendant language (“The creaks and meows of night,/Shadows of the copper beeches.”) on the material landscape of a childhood while simultaneously acknowledging the psychological landscape.

There were moments I thought the poet may have fallen into her own traps—pushed a metaphor a little too far, took the readers’ trust for granted, but then come moments of wonderful self-awareness, as if she knows where she’s taking us and is grinning a little inside, like here, in the poem “Stone Quarry Hill”:

If this poem were Chinese

I’d say my hair is gray (which it is)

And that I haven’t heard

News of you in a long time.

If I’m being played, I’m OK with it. Even when she asks “Why must inspiration be a vista?” you know she knows the answer is more complicated than that. “An inner self/that also shifts shape” is the visita we’re really meant to contemplate: “how what we ignored or couldn’t explain/remained in plain view.”

You can buy Seven Places in America here on Amazon.

New Review of The Trouble with Rivers

My book The Trouble with Rivers was recently reviewed at Almost Uptown.

Here the reviewer calls the collection  “unpretentious, lyrically beautiful, and surprisingly deep. Clauser’s sparse, densely- packed words frame his images and experiences with a zen-like quality that allows them to expand before the reader like, well, like a river… Clauser’s writing is unabashed in its harsh sentimentality, merging bitterness with love, death with renewal, and hope from the darkness- all without ever losing his simple, melodic tone…”
Read the whole review here.

New Book Review

Hey look, Philadelphia Stories and Courtney Bambrick posted a new review of my book The Trouble with Rivers. Read it here.

In it Brambrick compares my writing to Claudia Emerson, so I guess I’m going to have to look up her work. She says some other nice things, so be kind and read it. Also see the review of my friend Liz Chang’s new book What Ordinary Objects here. I plan to post my own review of that book as soon as I get some of my other deadline work behind me. Also, my tomatoes are ready to be picked.

Why Do Online Literary Journals Still Act Like Print Journals?

Straight Forward Poetry uses ISSUU to produce online “magazines.”

I’ve been submitting poetry to literary journals for more than 20 years, so I’ve been following the trend toward online publishing pretty much since it began. In the mid ‘90s, before broadband and when I still had an AOL account, a few poetry listservs were popping up that sent out contributed poems to subscribers. If I recall, most of those listservs weren’t all that selective, but some were quite good. Some probably even evolved into proper online pubs. One I recall from that period (because the archives are still online) was realpoetik. Every time it went out to its thousand or so subscribers as an email blast, readers would be treated to a few new poems. I think my first poem published by a mainstream online literary outlet was The Painted Bride Quarterly, which went online around 1999 or 2000. Now there are online lit pubs starting up new every week. I get the call-for-submissions emails frequently, and Poets & Writers maintains a pretty good list as well. Currently I send out poems to both print and online pubs in fairly equal measure. I like online publishing because of the ability to share—I can tweet and Facebook post my published poem to get it out to a wider audience. Sometimes I can even get reader feedback that way. Despite what the editor of the Pushcart thinks, online publications count as legitimate outlets and can be of very high quality. Still, I notice something about most online pubs that strikes me as curious—they’re hardly different from print pubs. Some, in fact many of the newest ones I’ve seen, go out of their way to look like print pubs. They format their content as downloadable PDFs or use to produce online flip books that act just (well, sort of) like print—you turn digital pages and even see the gutters and page numbers. I honestly don’t get that. As an editor/publisher you’ve selected a delivery method (the internet) that naturally thrives on dynamic user interfaces, yet you choose to format your publication to copy the least dynamic medium. Even ebook readers such as the Kindle don’t go out of their way to make their ebooks act like books. They make them fit the delivery device. PDFs and flipbooks are also extremely difficult to actually read on a computer (and they’re worse on a phone or tablet), and they don’t allow easy sharing. Another perplexing way online pubs act like print pubs is in their publishing schedule. Most of the online publications I read and publish in post content on an issue schedule very much like paper journals. The Painted Bride Quarterly for instance (a hybrid pub—PBQ also still does a print annual) publishes on a quarterly schedule—four times a year just like it did back in the old days of pulp. One of my favorite online pubs is the Cortland Review. It gets about 90,000 visitors a month (how many paper journals can claim that) and also publishes on a quarterly schedule. Why, when you’re not restricted to printing resources, mailing, sales, or any of the restrictions of paper, would you hold to an old-fashioned style of quarterly publishing? First a little perspective—my day job is as an editor for a consumer web site. This site gets about half a million visitors a month. We publish four-to-eight articles a day (a mix of long features, photo features, product reviews and short news items). We’ve got a pretty decent following from an enthusiast audience, but we also rely heavily on both social media and search engines for our reader traffic. Since the site’s business model is based on advertising, we need to keep the readers coming steadily. Both search engines like Google, and social sites like Facebook and Twitter, depend on frequency. If I waited three months between posting stories  on my website Google would ignore it and Facebook readers would forget it. Frequency is the key to reader attention. Yes, good content is important—that’s what gets you reader respect, but you need frequency to battle the onslaught of competition for attention in order to get the reader to notice you in the first place. I also understand that putting together a quality online lit journal takes time and energy. Many of the best online outlets have teams of volunteer editors who meet to discuss the submissions, then go through a back-and-forth process with their authors to collect bios, photos, and proofs. That’s good and gives me confidence that they’re taking my work seriously. But still, why let the power of a dynamic medium go to waste. What’s the web site doing between all those months or weeks of inactivity? What’s going to get people to visit it? My guess is that those sites may have a flurry of activity when each issue is first posted. If the editors are wise they’ll have sent out an email notice to readers (of course, first they need an email list) that the new issue is available. After the first week though, that activity trails off, and the site probably gets little more than a few Google hits a day when someone is looking for a particular author or the site’s submission guidelines. I know I personally forget about many of those online outlets in between issue releases, even though I probably haven’t read them completely. Why?  Because the site chooses not to compete adequately for my attention. On the other hand, we have the daily poem sites such as Poetry Daily, Verse Daily and Writer’s Almanac (and now Rattle is doing something similar with archived work). Those sites kill all the other traditional online pubs because they offer two of the things the web likes best—frequency and brevity. By offering one new poem each day (and they aren’t even technically new; they’re republished with permission from the original book or journal) they give the reader a reason to go back frequently. And by only offering one poem, they satisfy my time constraints problem. Online readers usually want something they can digest quickly and be done with it—that’s why simple news aggregators such as Newser are so popular.

Triggerfish Review # 9

Do I want every single online pub to just copy what Poetry Daily is doing? Maybe that’s not the best approach, but something closer would be wonderful. Consider an online journal that published 25 – 40 poems in a quarter. Maybe a couple of interviews and book reviews get mixed in. By spreading out the publishing to a weekly schedule, the site would encourage more frequent visits and probably get their authors more exposure (because visitors tend to read only the first few items and then leave). The workload for the editors would not considerably change because each piece would still be entered into the CMS in the same way. The only difference would be in the timing. The other benefit would be the ability to send out more frequent email alerts. If the site wants to monetize their pub, frequent email newsletters are more attractive to advertisers. Finally, lets talk more about the medium. What is the web capable of offering? We’ve got text, audio, video, sharing and community. So then why do 99% of the online lit pubs only operate with text? I’ll go back to the Cortland Review again, because it’s rare in that it makes most of its poems available in audio format. The site also uses a video on occasion. Those two things make it unusual, but in 2012 that shouldn’t be such a big deal. Getting a decent MP3 recording isn’t difficult these days—most smart phones have good audio and video recording capabilities, and every 13-year-old knows how to upload a video to youtube. What about community? How many people spend hours on Facebook sharing links, making jokes and commenting on status updates? This tendency to form into hives is natural online, but most online lit pubs have no community involvement at all except maybe a Facebook page (and many that do maintain FB pages don’t fully take advantage of them). Rarely do pubs allow comments on work or involve the authors in online engagement. Beloit Poetry Journal (print, but with a web site) added a new feature this year called Forum. In it selected authors are invited to write a short essay about their poem (from the current issue) and then readers are encouraged to comment on it. It’s a small start, but it’s a good idea. So far, participation looks to be minimal, but I commend them for doing it. At the same time, what may be the most interesting part of the site gets buried down at the lower right. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I don’t like online pubs. In fact I’m pretty confident that the future of poetry publishing is being crafted right now by pubs like some of the ones I’ve mentioned. While paper is still great and often preferred (my annual expenses in print books and journals is enough to warrant hiding from my wife), online pubs can, when they want to, offer as much or more pleasure and opportunity. In some circles there’s still a bit of snobbery around the concept of online publishing, but that’s fading. Sure, it’s easy to say you’re starting a new online journal. A wordpress account and $10 for a domain, plus some friends to give you poems, is really all it takes to start—but to succeed and make an impact takes a lot more. It’s the lot more that I want to see more of.

Review: Big Silences in a Year of Rain by Doris Ferleger

The poems in Doris Ferleger’s first collection, Big Silences in a Year of Rain bear a level of seriousness, responsibility and impact—and a heavy dose of insight. They dwell on memories and moments, usually painful ones, with both an astuteness and humanity that will prove rewarding to the reader. Professionally, Ferleger is a psychologist, so it’s probably no coincidence that many of the poems in this collection deal with suffering, loss, anticipation of loss and the methods of coping with all of the above.

Many of the poems, particularly those in the first section, deal directly or indirectly with the poet’s heritage as the child of Holocaust survivors.

In “Victory” she writes:

My father considered

himself a success

when he found his children

still breathing. Each night

another victory over Hitler.

I learned early

to pretend I was sleeping,

to not be a burden.

In this collection we find a mix of narratives and lyrics, family histories, odes and elegies. She’s a deeply engaging writer, both of the world and people around her and of the perceived reader. While many contemporary poets seem to hold the reader almost in contempt, as if the act of communicating is a sort-of afterthought to the poem, Ferleger’s poems are meant to be affective. That’s something I like in Jack Gilbert, in Mark Strand and Betsy Sholl; and it’s something I especially like here.

Ferleger is not afraid of opening up, of revealing more about her life in a short poem than many people will reveal to friends they’ve known for years. That doesn’t make these confessional poems, truth for shock appeal. No, in these pages the poet’s spiraling toward truths comes across as a way of life, or, more likely, a way of dealing with life.

From “To Try Again”

Almost unbearable, this body,

unbearable the weight of this

snow cover

thick as a lover’s absence

on a spring day

when you have lost

the one you have slept

and eaten with longer

than three childhoods,

There are many times the reader feels invited into a family conversation, but these are heavier conversations than most families probably have at the dinner table. These are the moments that seem at once oppressive and also extraordinarily generous.

From “Scared”

Last night our son spoke to me

in a bristly tone but it didn’t

scrape me down this time. I just

said whoa, like that, a big whoa

came out of me in one short punching

breath. He stopped, even nodded.

My mouth felt like it could

blow away rock coral.

This poet is knows how to charge her language with emotion, but not sentimentality. Her imagery can be spiritual and concrete and compassionate, and clearly lived. This is not the book of a passive observer, and she chooses her words carefully to communicate that intensity. In “Oh Sages” Ferleger describes a scene in which a woman falls, dying, into the poet’s arms:

as she fell into my arms,

and she let go the last

particles of her supper,

leaving me there

to hold her bones, fat, flesh

the soul always leaves

to the care of failures?


Big Silences in a Year of Rain can be purchased from Main Street Rag Publishing Company.