The Trouble with Rivers by Grant Clauser

Review by: Christine O’Leary-Rockey

72 page hand-sewn paperbook with spine

Foothills Publishing, 2012

Grant Clauser is an unusual poet. At least he strikes me as unusual for today; He writes about fly-fishing and taxidermy, turkey-hunting and frozen ponds, but with a philosophical and artistic dexterity that is seldom found within this traditional subject matter.  Clauser’s poems in his new book, The Trouble with Rivers’, from FootHills Publishing, is 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…

And that’s the trouble with rivers. Or at least that’s what he tells us…Not in his title poem, ‘The Trouble With Rivers’. No, in this poem he gives us a fisherman’s eye; the fumbled casts, the chary trout, and the dying towns around it. In this poem, like many others, we hear a sportsman’s voice listening intently to the silence found above the rumble of cars on bridges above, and the sigh of hawks hanging when no one else watching. Through the sportsman’s eyes we see nature, smoky and green, spread about on the trunks of trees and the smell of old tobacco pipes drifting through dead branches.  But push a little bit further and we find a deeper eye- the love and yes, the alienation, of being away- immersed in it, separated from the corporate and the mundane and into the more living, vital world found outside of our constructed lives.

And it’s a lonely life, to hear it unfold. Maybe it takes a lonely heart to hear the language of the river, to ‘Know the false habits of water, what can hide in a ripple/ or swell like shame the instant it breaks waves.” Undoubtedly it takes a strong heart to peer into corners that we usually keep closed. After all, it’s an act of bravery to admit that ‘Once the match is struck/there’s no taking it back…’. But back from what? From ‘the ghosts of other faces…pressing skin against bone…” Or from the day your children stop believing in fairies, or love. 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…

But the trouble with rivers, we find, is that they don’t make it all better. They don’t fill any voids, or repair any of the holes left by life, by loss, or by the thought of those things that came before and left, like a footprint or an impression that has lost the very thing that gave it form. They don’t stop you from being alone. And no matter how much you love them and are drawn to their banks, to their shallows and depths, no matter the consolation they give, every so often they rise up and destroy everything you hold sacred, only to recede and expect you to love them again.”…the moment you see autumn/lose its stolen hour, the hour when a heron/turns its dagger mouth/ from the pond/ and leaves, you know/what empty means.”  And you do. And we do, and we do, and we do. But that’s the trouble with rivers…

The Trouble with Rivers is available at

  Christine O’Leary-Rockey is a poet, philosopher and a professor and with a tendency to lose things and incur student loans for frivolous subjects. Greatly influenced by W.B. Yeats, e.e. cummings and mystics such as Julian of Norwich, St. Francis of Assisi and Shel Silverstein, she has failed to come to terms with any real religious identity and is open to suggestions…. She’s been published in a variety of state and local publications, including The Fledgling Rag, The Experimental Forest, Steel Pointe Quarterly, Harrisburg Magazine, and Megaera. Christine is a member of Harrisburg’s infamous (almost) Uptown Poetry Cartel and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in November 2007 by Iris G. Press.

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