Sunday, January 20, 2013

Grant Clauser, Poet and Poetry Teacher, at the MWG Conference

Grant at work
Welcome to Grant Clauser, a poet who is going to teach us about poetry at this year's MWG conference! Grant is the author of The Trouble with Rivers (2012). Poems have appeared in The Literary Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Cortland Review, Cider Press Review, and others. He's conducted many interviews with poets for The Schuylkill Valley Journal and The American Poetry Review. In 2010, he was named the Montgomery County Poet Laureate by Robert Bly. He runs the Montco Wordshop and teaches poetry writing at Philadelphia’s Musehouse, the Philadelphia Writers' Conference and runs the blog  

MWG: Welcome, Grant. You are going to give a master's class in poetry on Sunday morning. Who should attend? Poets of all levels? Beginners? Seasoned poetry writers?

Grant: The master’s class is called "Building Trustworthy Poems," and it’s a subject I think would be attractive to all experience levels. I believe that a lot of the success of a poem depends on how well it’s able to invite the reader into it. Poetry is based largely on relationships: the relationship of the images to the ideas, the text to the sounds, the line breaks to the connotations… but more than that, a poem has to engage the reader in a relationship, and the best relationships are based on trust. We’ll talk about the various ways a writer can provoke trust, such as the use of detail, voice, and honest metaphor. We’ll talk about examples and do some exercise. Jack Gilbert, Jane Kenyon, Sonia Sanchez, and Philip Levine are all poets who are expert at this.

 MWG: That sounds great, Grant. You are also doing a workshop (breakout) during the regular conference. What will you focus on during the workshop?

Grant: The other session I’m doing is called "Core Issues." I believe that the most lasting and resonant poems are the ones that are informed by the core issues that motivate us: love and death. A decent poem can be either craft-driven or core-driven, maybe have interesting or clever elements, but the best poems know how to bind those elements into something of ontological importance. Those are the ones that sneak up on us when we’re not expecting, the ones that cause us to put the book down and stare at our hands for a while after reading. I don’t mean that all poems have to be “about” love or death; but those two core issues have a spectral presence in everything we do of importance, so being aware of them and using that awareness can result in stronger poems.  

MWG: I'm sure many of our poets are getting excited about these classes! Will there be poetry writing and reading?

Grant: Yes, both. I’ll share lots of examples in both sessions. In the "Core Issues" session, I’ll send people home with some suggested prompts. In the master class, which is longer, we’ll do some exercises in class and talk about the results.  

The Literary Review
MWG: Writing exercises--great! What makes you love writing poetry?

Grant: I first found out I liked poetry when I was in middle school and memorized Poe’s "The Raven." I loved the eeriness of it and how the sound and images worked in tandem. Since then, I just grew to enjoy the process of writing. It’s the discovery element that does it for me, like starting on a hike and not knowing where it will lead. I start my poems with a word or image I like and then follow it through to see if I can make something happen. I’ve tried other longer-form writing, but I’m an impatient person and can’t hold a thought for the length of time it takes to write something like a novel.  

MWG: How can an MFA help a writer with his or her poetry writing?

Grant: This will be different for every person; but for me, what I valued in the MFA program at Bowling Green was the time it allowed me to focus on my writing. Aside from the couple of classes I taught, every waking moment was about poetry. I learned as much, maybe more, outside of class, hanging out with other writers, haunting bookstores and readings, as I did inside of the classes and workshops. The low-residency programs that are popular now don’t allow that kind of immersion, so I don’t think I can recommend them. I went to grad school on a fellowship, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to hold down a full-time job while working on an MFA. For me, the time and dedication was paramount. Don’t look at an MFA as a career investment. The degree is not a guarantee of a job or publication, and it won’t necessarily make a person a better writer. In fact, I think most of the people I was in workshop with have given up writing poetry. Life tends to weed out poets over time. What I believe is very important is that a developing writer have a peer group to share work with and learn from. Nearly every town/community has a writing group, or several; and if you’re not involved with one, then get involved or make one. It’s great to have a group of writers to bounce ideas off, share connections with, and trade favorite books and authors with. I meet with a group of poets once a month still.

MWG: That is so true! And hopefully some people will find each other at the MWG conference! What tips do you have for poets who are trying to get published in literary journals?

Grant: Read a lot. Be patient. Start local.

MWG: Anything else you would like to add? 

Grant: I’m always surprised when I meet new writers who tell me they haven’t  read much poetry. If you want to be a writer, you have to love reading, and that means reading a lot. That’s the most important way a person can learn more about the craft. I go through several poetry books a month and continually go back to books I’ve read before. My office floor is usually covered with open books. Also, read with a pencil in your hand—make notes on the page, seek to understand how the poem works or doesn’t, borrow ideas… If you’re not a serious reader, you’ll never be a serious writer.

MWG: Grant, that is so true. On another blog I write for, we have been having that exact same discussion. (smiles) Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. See you in April.

Interview by Margo L. Dill, the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg, middle-grade (ages 9 to 12) historical fiction and two upcoming picture books. To find out more, go to Margo's website at  


  1. I can hardly wait for one of my very favorite conferences!

    Bill Hopkins

  2. Great post I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this interesting and knowledgeable article.
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