I cleave to the brave idea/of not torturing the world.
—“The Damnation of Jan,” from If You Like Difficulty
This new volume of poetry by the author of From a Glass House and the trailblazing memoir Apples and Oranges reveals a complex, wide-ranging voice rendered both hoarse and tender by the poet’s apprehension of her world’s fragility. Terse grief abuts pointed gallows humor in poems that take on the “smiley face” of ubiquitous war in the new millennium, looping from urban life made vulnerable by its excessive complexity to interludes of refuge in natural surroundings beset by the disruption of ancient cycles. Images of “ablation” (the wearing away of glaciers, the surgical excision of bodily tissue) evoke the beauty and pathos, terror and comedy of a world/wound that manifests as “both throat and blade.” Starkly political and passionately lyrical, If You Like Difficulty tracks the passage of an individual life through the desolate straits of our current history, while posing the urgent, unanswerable question: Does a planet have a point of view?
“Jan Clausen’s witty, resourceful poems turn on a dime from abab formal to text message-y digital, hugging the curves of language with precision and wild glee. ‘Tufts of dithyramb’ thrust from the cracks of a staggered republic, her verses had me feeling we’re just one good ablation away from making things right & new. In the ‘struggle/to alchemize syntax/ out of just feeling fuckd,’ it’s Jan who wins hands-down ‘aqui/la luz/ resumes.'”
—Rodney Koeneke, author of Musee Mechanique (BlazeVOX) and Rouge State (Pavement Saw Press)
From If You Like Difficulty
Ghazal: in Arabic: whispering words of love or
cry of a gazelle cornered in hunt
I sat in my house and waited for something to happen.
Life’s drapery so smooth, I hankered for rumpling to happen.
Ten thousand verses like devil-ridden swine!
It’s po month. Lyric trampling can happen.
The young in one another’s spoken word—
their hope’s for better sampling to happen.
“Shit happens,” snaps a T-shirt. “Suck it up.”
Sans attitude, could Gotham clothing happen?
Tulips Are in the Cooler, reads a sign.
Crank fridges high, let global warming happen.
Sue’s Shih Tzu died last Tuesday. She’s a wreck
but his DNA’s iced, so eventual cloning can happen.
One Broadway mom’s stroller flies an Israeli flag.
From “Baby on Board” to a nod for Sharoning to happen.
Shun passive verbs. Say who did what to whom.
You might get textual mattering to happen.
They sold their farms, prayed aloud on a holy hill.
What now? The Second Coming didn’t happen.
Bushwhacked? Attack. God’s country gets it done,
still waiting for the vision thing to happen.
I marched, but wouldn’t chant, “We are all Palestinian,”
a holdout for the precision thing to happen.
Did you ever dream lucky, wake up cold in hand?
Must be your fault. How’d you let that thieving happen?
My girl-grandmother bucks for a break in barbarian pines,
cell-bent on compelling life’s boreal blooming to happen.
Orange butterfly rides like a bow on a gift-wrap of flies.
Moist scat-table set in the road for their feasting to happen.
In anguish-etched close-up, the family plugs lethal injection:
Give us our closure—he made the bereaving happen.
From Gujarat, Miss.: charred, hell-hacked sentience.
We’re history. We make the howling happen.
Mossed tombstones remind us, in quaint theological guise:
To you, too, this no-thing, the one truly new thing, must happen.
He/she-ing, the we-beasts keep boarding the narrative ark.
Dark arc. And its desolate solace: offspring (still) happen.
I’ve days when I manage to think like a bug in the sun;
a stone on the shore, in whose cove-home great harboring happens.
Not Jew, Jenin—but, Jan, you’re next of kin.
Let your epitaph read: Happy poet—she made nothing happen.
Brooklyn, New York and the North Shore of Lake Superior, April-June, 2002
Note: The line “Did you ever dream lucky, wake up cold in hand?” is from a traditional blues.
Copyright ©2005 by Jan Clausen
First publication: Bloom, Vol. I, Issue I (Winter 2004)