Check out No River Twice, Poetry Improv that’s Never the Same Reading Twice

Last year my friend Hayden Saunier, a poet and actor, came up with an idea to change up what a traditional poetry reading is like. She invited a handful of people to a meeting at her house, and there No River Twice was born.

No River Twice is a poetry improvisational group. Our group poetry readings don’t have planned reading lists, reader orders or themes–they’re completely spontaneous and responsive to audience input. At a NRT reading, the poets take cues and suggestions from the audience and each other, so each performance is unique, the poems interconnect, weave and flow in a unique way that connects the readers to the listeners. We’re not inventing new poems on the spot, but we’re inventing new synergies, which makes each performance collaborative and new.

We held our first public performance in January at Fergie’s in Philadelphia, and have had a few since. Our next one will kick off the new Caesura poetry conference in Phoenixville, PA, August 17.

It’s hard to explain exactly what NRT is, so you should just come to one of our events–it’ll change the way you think about poetry readings.


Find some of my books here on Amazon.

Follow me on twitter @uniambic

Finally, I Can Buy a Two-headed Calf

I used to love farmers’ fairs and carnivals when I was a kid. My cousins lived on a farm in Pennsylvania (sometimes a working farm, sometimes not), and I loved hanging out in the barns, roaming the fields looking quartz chunks, catching fish in the pond, but especially going to the Blue Valley Farm Show. There I’d look for the record-breaking bull, the tractor pull (which my cousin won one year, I think) and gorge myself on fried things.

Sometimes you see weird stuff at fairs, and one such encounter (somewhat fictionalized, I admit) I put into the poem Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show (which is in the book Necessary Mythsbuy here). Anyway, I just happened to notice, via the Facebook page of The Evolution Store, a listing for an actual two-headed calf for sale. The auction house Bonhams is offering both the full mount and an articulated skeleton.  Would someone please buy this for my birthday present? I know just the place I’d put it.

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 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.

Here’s another taxidermy poem by me at Painted Bride Quarterly.

And here’s another tw0-headed calf poem, this one by Laura Gilpin (thanks to Laura Orem for the tip).

Twitter with me @Uniambic

Three Poems: Hurricane, Scrapple, Jackalope

Here’s me reading three newer poems (they’re not actually from the book, as I state in the intro, but hopefully from the next book). The poems are Naming the Hurricanes, Ode to Scrapple and Ode to a Jackalope (which will appear in an issue of Gargoyle later this year).

<p><a href=”″>Grant Clauser at the Rosemont Writer’s Retreat 2014</a> from <a href=””>Jill Frechie</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Recorded by Jill Frechie at Rosemont College.


If Buzzfeed Did Poetry Listacles

So what would a Buzzfeed-style listacle post look like? Maybe something like this. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

25 Poems Only People Who Grew Up in the 80s Will Understand
Best Celebrity NSFW Poems
10 Beatniks Who Cleaned Up
What kind of Sonnet are you?
Unfortunate Photos from the Dodge Poetry Festival
Someone Took a Manuscript to AWP and You Won’t Believe What Happened
15 Ways You Can Spot a Metamodernist
17 Problems All MFA Canditates Have
12 Things You Need to Know About Eugenio Montale
What Is Your Personal Theme Villanelle
25 Best Poems to Read on a First Date
The Most WTF Poems of All Time
18 Things All Skinny Poets Will Understand
3 Famous Poets Who Didn’t Hate Themselves
25 Poetry Journals That Never Read Submissions


*thanks to Brian Beatty for the idea

Follow on Twitter at @UnIambic 

My Only Halloween Poem


Halloween Mask

They never fit the way you hope

they will, the latex loose,

the green zombie nose

too low, the eye slots

too thin to guide you

down the road.

There’s no way to mask

this thing inside you.

Some costumes we swallow

with wine, with walks

along unfamiliar cobbles,

searching for doors to open

windows to break.

Others whip their shadows

like storm clouds

ripping the leaves off trees.

You can’t escape

the rain by running.

It’s like stealing other people’s tongues

but wanting to get their taste

out of your mouth.


 From The Trouble with Rivers (order here).

The Trouble with Poetry Readings

Donald Hall recently wrote some observations on the ubiquitous poetry reading for The New Yorker. I won’t summarize it for you—read it for yourself here. It’s long, but worth your time.

It also got me thinking about all the readings I’ve done and attended.

I’ve been doing a lot of readings the past two years. Some sprung from an award I won. The award apparently got my name out to a few people I didn’t know previously (which is easy, because I know hardly anyone). Then early this year my first book came out, so I actively courted readings in the hope of selling books (sometimes it worked, sometimes not). When I’m not doing readings (which is most of the time) I try to attend as many as my schedule allows. Here I attempt my random observations on poetry readings.


My first “real” poetry reading was (I think) D. Nurkse at Bucknell University in the mid-80s. I was a student at nearby Bloomsburg University, and one of my literature professors, who I occasionally drank with, took me to the reading. Around the same time I also heard Harry Humes there. It may even have been the same reading. Not sure. Either way, I got some books signed.


 Since I go to a lot of readings I have a lot of signed books. Most poets try to write something nice (“thanks for the support…”). At that first reading, Nurkse just wrote his name at the top of the page like he was signing a math exam. After a reading at Bucks County Community College in the early 90s, where I was teaching at the time, Jack Gilbert not only signed, but also drew a little picture in my copy of The Great Fires. I try to write something funny, but often just scribble so people assume it says something funny.


 As Hall notes in his post, many poets butcher or drown their poems at public readings. That’s why I have trouble remembering so many of the readings I’ve attended. Jack Gilbert was quiet, but he had a seriousness to his reading as if he was re-experiencing the poem in front of us. Thomas Lux punches his poems out like a nail gun. Robet Hass–I know I saw him in Philadelphia, but have no memory of what it was like.


 Robert Bly often repeats himself at readings (not in the same way my grandmother used to repeat herself). He seems to truly enjoy the process of reading aloud, and when he comes to a line he likes (or thinks you should like) he says it again. Sometimes that means he reads the whole poem again just because he enjoys doing it. I like that, though I wouldn’t try it myself. You’d just call me insufferable.


 I don’t know if I’m a good reader. I read my poems out loud all the time—as I’m writing, revising or just reading my poems over again. I walk around the house at night doing that. I’m not sure what my poems should sound like or what I should sound like. I recently had one audience member complement me on my reading style, and at the same reading another person asked me why I read my poems “like that.” I’m not sure what “that” meant. My wife says I hunch over when I’m reading.


I envy people who have a strong reading voice–like a radio voice. Southern poets have a clear advantage. A southern accent makes any line sound cooler. I don’t think a southerner ever said that about a Yankee accent.


 I have a personal rule: At every poetry reading I must buy at least one book (if books are for sale). If no books are for sale, then I at least buy something from the host venue (coffee, beer, muffin, whatever…). I’m always shocked when I see a crowd of 30 people show up for a free reading, and the poet only sells 3 books. That’s shameful. Books are cheap, and we need to support each other. I’ve been that poet. I once drove more than two hours for a venue where I was invited to be the featured reader. Only about 10 people showed up. One bought a book. The venue complained that I brought in my own bottle of water (I’d just come in from a pizza place), made me throw it out and buy another bottle of water there. Remember, most poets are unpaid for readings. Selling a few book copies is all we’ve got to pay for the gas and pizza.


At that reading I traded a copy of my book with another poet for his book. Trading books with other poets is cool. I do that whenever I can. Also, if you like the reading, offer to buy the poet a beer, especially if it’s me.


Should poets be paid for readings? If you’re Donald Hall, then of course you get paid. I’ve been paid about four times in my life for readings. One was a public library. Once was at a university, and it paid nicely (and included dinner). If you work at a University, please invite me to read. I’ll be gracious.


At most readings, the host or venue treats the visiting poet very nicely, but there have been times… At a reading I did in Skippack (at a coffee shop that no longer exists), I got the impression that my presence was an inconvenience to the manager even though I was invited. The shop didn’t want to move any seats to accommodate a reading, didn’t want me to read too long because a guitar player was coming later that evening, and I was expected to pay for my one cup of coffee. Luckily, only about three people came.


Sometimes you can tell when half the audience is only there for the open reading after the featured poet. They spend the whole time heads down, shuffling through their own papers, tapping on a phone… then jump up for the open period. Those people suck.


When a host says you get 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever, does that mean you automatically get an extra 10-20 percent extension? I seem to see that a lot. Sometimes I mind. Sometimes I don’t. Usually the times I mind are when I’m last in line out of a series of readers and find out that now I’ve only got 4 minutes because we’re out of time.


Applause. People should know by now that they don’t need to clap after every poem. Maybe an occasional spontaneous burst, but not EVERY poem. Save the applause to the end.


I admit that my mind wanders during poetry readings. Unless the presentation is especially engaging (or it’s Donald Hall), I sometimes have trouble focusing, especially on long poems. Maybe that’s why I don’t write long poems. If any of you out there see that look in my eye while you’re reading, I’m sorry.


At a reading at an art gallery I was impressed with how closely the audience was paying attention. Their eyes never seemed to waver from me at the front of the room. After the reading I realized that behind me were two life-size nude portraits , one of a lovely women and one of a very interested man.


Sometimes I wonder why no one wants to sit in the first row when I’m reading. I don’t think I spray when I speak. Lately I’ve been trying to sit up front so I get a better view for taking videos with my phone.


It’s late, and I’ve run out of ideas. Please add your own thoughts to this. If you want to hear me read, I’ll be at the Good Karma Cafe on Dec 2 with J.C. Todd.

Grant Clauser’s newest Book, Necessary Myths, can be found at The Broadkill River Press


Poetry Book Titles that Could Be Super PACs

Happy Life by David Budbill (Copper Canyon Press)

The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly (Wave Books)

Ballistics  by Billy Collins (Random House)

A Cold Wind From Idaho by Lawrence Matsuda (Black Lawrence Press)

Heavenly Questions by Gjertrud Schnackenberg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Protection by Gregg Shapiro (Gival Press)

Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon Press)

Unincorporated Territory by Craig Santos Perez (Tinfish Press)

187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border by Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights Books)

you are a little bit happier than i am by Tao Lin (Action Books)

Another Attempt At Rescue by M.L. Smoker (Hanging Loose Press)

News of the World (paperback) by Philip Levine (Knopf)

One With Others by C. D. Wright (Copper Canyon Press)

Where I Live  by Maxine W. Kumin (W. W. Norton & Company)

The Continual Conditional  by Charles Bukowski (Ecco)

Native Guard  by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin)

In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys by Campbell McGrath (Ecco)

Newspaper Blackout by Austin Kleon (Harper Perennial)

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf Press )

Hard Times Require Furious Dancing by Alice Walker (New World Library)

Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls by Erika Meitner (Anhinga Press)

Either Way I’m Celebrating by Sommer Browning (Birds, LLC)

Determination by Kit Robinson (Cuneiform Press)

A Village Life by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


List inspired by this.

Which is your favorite Poetry Super PAC. Know of any other good ones? Post them in the comments section.

Plans for the Keystone Pipeline

Plans for The Keystone Pipeline

 inspired by Richard Hugo’s Plans for Altering the River

Those who favor our plans for the Keystone Pipeline
raise your hand. Thank you for your vote.
Last week, you’ll recall, I spoke about how oil
never complains. How it runs where you spill it,
seemingly at home in oyster beds, flooding prairies pinched
by Chinese banks like those in this graphic
depiction of our plan. We ask for power:
a tanker ruptures or trains derail to drive our cars.
The GOP approves our plans for the Keystone Pipeline.

Due to a procedural vote, I’m sad to report
our project is not on schedule. The president
was listening to the Sierra Club and Interior.
We used to drill deep without remorse or tax,

wavers coming when oil prices were low.
Senate turned their heads and coughed. When we get
that settled, and the concrete, given good weather
we can force our plan for the Keystone Pipeline.

We have the injunction. We silenced the opposition.
The workers are back. The materials arrived
and everything’s humming. I thank you
for this award, this handsome plaque I’ll keep
forever above my mantle, and I’ll read
the inscription often aloud to remind me
how with your courageous backing I fought
our battle and won. I’ll always remember
this banquet this day build the Keystone Pipeline.

Nesting boxes for cranes? A commemorative Sand Hill plaque?
Return of owl and endangered newt? Who are these men?
The National Resource Defense Council on plans for the Keystone Pipeline?
What’s this wild worry over wetlands,
celebrating the runoff, display floats on fire
at night and a forest dance under the stars?
Children sing through my locked door, ‘Old stranger,
we’re going to alter, to alter, alter the aquifer.’
Just when the water was settled and at home.

If you want to read and hear Hugo’s original, go here.