Publisher: Kelsay Books
Length: 58 Pages
Friends, Let me just say it: Klawitter is good. I mean- he’s really good.
I read a lot of poetry. I love poetry in all of it’s forms. I love experimental poetry and modern poetry. I love spoken word poetry and slam poetry. I love poems scribbled on the back of napkins. I love Tumblr poets, Instagram poets, and Twitter poets.
But friends- I’ll confess it: At heart, I’m a classicist.
Many years ago, when I studied music in college, I really wanted to sing show tunes. I was convinced that if I was just given the chance, i could be the next Ariel from The Little Mermaid or Belle, from Beauty in the Beast.
My professor looked down her nose at me and crossed her arms. “Absolutely not,” she said derisively. She was a remarkably talented soprano who had performed on stage in Paris. “My students all start with opera. You must sing Mozart before you can sing Menken. You must learn the rules before you can break them. ”
It is clear from Klawitter’s writing that he knows the rules. It is because he knows the rules and has paid his due that he is able to break the rules with such skill. Each piece is a “quiet insurrection,” and a tiny revolution. Klawitter uses his poetic skill and understanding to subvert established norms and play with the reader’s expectations. Each piece is a surprise and causes the reader to question his or her worldview.
Some of the poems are laugh out loud hilarious- “Williams Would Understand.”
Some are ironic- “I Will Never Try to Publish a Poem in The New Yorker.”
Some are tender, “Wedding Anniversary.”
And some feel outright dangerous- “Revolutionaries.”
Some pieces, like “Smartphone Revelations,” made me feel convicted and somewhat guilty. Over the past few days, every time I bow my head over the “jealous god” of my iPhone, I can hear Klawitter’s clear poetic voice echoing in my mind.
Other pieces, like “The Gospel of Barabbas,” were both heartbreaking and deeply spiritual. I found myself nodding along with the speaker. “Yes, yes!” I wanted to shout, “Beat those soldiers silly!” The piece ends with a familiar sacred phrase employed in such a way that it caused me to weep.
My favorite poet, Mr. Pope, stated, “The great rule of verse is to be musical.” Klawitter’s verse is certainly musical. His poems cry to be read aloud. I would especially like to hear “An Invitation,” set to the strains of a nautical tune.
In recent years, the trend in modern poetry has been to eschew rhyme and meter. We partially have Ezra Pound to thank for this. When T.S. Eliot was working on the The Wasteland, Pound brutally edited Eliot’s lines and cut out a significant portion of the work. Pound advised Eliot to not to attempt to write like Pope because he was incapable of writing better than Pope.
Lately, poetry has undergone a revolution and female voices, especially voices from the margins, are taking back the narrative. I commend all this newfound poetic freedom but I cannot help but long for the lyricism and tuneful melodies of the classic poets. Robert Frost wrote, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” In essence, we could still call it tennis, but at a certain point we must ask: What makes a poem a poem?
Klawitter closes his collection by grappling with this complex question. In his final piece, “I Didn’t Intend to End This with a Quote from Jaroslav Pelikan,” he writes:
“No art without the discipline
of a well-watched border.
Transgression has become so common as to become commonplace.”
I feel Klawitter’s struggle and I feel for him. In the same piece he confesses, “I grow tired of the way I write… weary of the bells that jingle.”
Anyone who has longed to craft a beautiful piece of verse can empathize with this predicament. All writers, even the great ones, question their talent and their worth at some point. Reading Klawitter’s words made me feel as if I was having an earnest conversation with an old friend. It reminded me of graduate school, when we stayed awake until the wee small hours of the morning, arguing over the big questions in life: What is greatness? What is good writing? Who defines beauty? What is a poem? Could Christ be the ultimate poem made flesh?
I highly recommend Quiet Insurrections to anyone who loves poetry or has an appreciation for the art of writing. Quiet Insurrections is a beautiful and complex work that will make you laugh, cry, and question the established world order. It is a poetry collection for the underdogs and the quiet subversive revolutionary in all of us.
Author Q&A with Daniel Klawitter
I have the honor of knowing Daniel through the Order of St. Luke. The order of St. Luke is an ecumenical organization for both clergy and laity that works to promote excellence in liturgical worship and to magnify the sacraments. I asked Daniel if he would be willing to chat with me about his thoughts on poetry, his writing process, and the art of writing.
Rev. Rebecca: Can you describe the cover of your book for my readers who have sight loss or are visually impaired? What doe the image depict? How does it relate to the themes you explore in Quiet Insurrections? Did you select this image yourself?
Daniel Klawitter: The image is from a painting titled “Le Discret” by Joseph Ducreux, a French painter who died in 1802. It is a portrait of a nobleman raising a finger to his pursed lips indicating the need for discretion…what we might think of as a “shhhhh” or “sush” gesture. I found the image myself and chose it because it struck me as being both a classical example of portraiture for the era but also because the man in the painting has a rather amusing expression to me, as if whatever secret he is keeping might be politically scandalous or deliciously entertaining. It seemed to fit with the style of the poems in my manuscript in terms of my fidelity to “formalish” metrical poetry with rhyme but also playing a bit with expected form and subject matter in an purposeful and sometimes humorous way.
RR: Your collection has moments that are both powerful and prophetic. What advice do you have for writers who wish to tackle difficult topics in their verse?
DK: Yes, there are a few poems in Quiet Insurrections that address issues of politics and religion. My approach varies depending on the individual poem of course, but in general I often try to use humor to avoid being overly didactic or ideological (which is good advice for ministers preaching on potentially divisive subjects as well!) Humor has a way of disarming resistance. It also seems to me that employing rhyme tends to lighten the tone of a poem, or at least make it more digestible. The late poet Robert W. King, who founded the Colorado Poet’s Center, told me that much of my work seemed to “verge with a punch” toward what he delightfully called “heavy light verse.” By which I think he meant taking a light verse tone and style to deal with potentially “heavier” subjects…political, religious, or metaphysical.
RR: I’m impressed by your experience and literary credentials. What advice do you have for poets who have yet to be published? Do you have any tips for submitting to literary journals?
DK: The best advice I have for any poet who wants to publish is to first read as many poets as you possibly can: read broadly and deeply the various literary journals, anthologies, etc. When you find contemporary poets who resonate with you, buy their books. Different literary journals, poetry websites and magazines have different editorial aesthetics, so you want to familiarize yourself with that and try to submit poems that are a good fit. And follow the submission guidelines without fail. I would also say it is important for a beginning poet to try not to rush to publication, as tempting as that might be. You want to submit work you are proud of, so learn the craft first. There are tons of great books out there for beginning poets. Some of my favorites are: Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, The Poet’s Handbook by Judson Jerome, and A Poet’s Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie.
RR: Would you be willing to share a little bit about your writing process? How long do you usually spend on a particular piece? How do you know when a poem is finished? How do you decide when you are ready to publish a collection and what poems to put into the collection?
DK: Each poem, for me at least, is a like a child. Which is a way of saying that each one is unique in its own way. So there isn’t really a “usual” amount of time that I spend on each poem: some seem perfect or near-perfect to me in the first draft and others I have gone back and revised years later. There is a kind of almost ontological “click” that happens for me internally when I feel a poem is “done” or as finished as its going to get. You don’t want to over-bake them!
Other poems leave me with a nagging sense of incompletion, of “not quite right”, and those poems need to be abandoned for awhile and allowed to percolate in the unconscious. I have learned over the years that trying to force a poem to the finish line when it doesn’t want to get there can be deadly: You can end up revising and editing it so much it becomes worse rather than better. So I have had to learn to step away from those poems that are giving me trouble and just give them a time out. I go and read other things. I try not to think about it. I work on other poems. And invariably, whether it is a week or even a year or more later, when I re-visit the problem poem with fresh eyes, I can find the solution that makes it work better.
In terms of putting together my books for publication, I try to group the poems in terms of theme relating to subject matter. For example, my first full-length collection, A Poet Playing Doctor, was arranged in four parts: “Diagnosis”, “Homeopathic Remedies”, “Radical Treatment Options”, and “Chaplain on Call.” The Diagnosis section was the broadest…containing poems of examination and wonder: about poetry itself, musicians, loss, philosophy, the human condition, etc. “Homeopathic Remedies” contained poems dealing with domesticity and relationships. “Radical Treatment Options” were my political poems, and “Chaplain on Call” were poems of a more religious nature.
RR: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do you think makes a poem a poem?
DK: What makes a poem a poem can be a rather contentious subject, especially among poets! But I suppose the simplest answer would be that poetry is heightened and metrical speech. One of the better definitions I’ve seen comes from the website at Western State Colorado University:
“All poetry, including free verse, has form. Indeed, the only real alternative to ‘formal poetry’ would be ‘formless poetry,’ and presumably no one wants to study or write that…in our view poems do not differ from prose because of what they say—in prose we can tackle any subject, employ any diction, tell any story, use any figure of speech, even establish any rhythm—what we cannot do in prose, however, by definition is…write verse.” (Emphasis mine).
According to this definition, poetry is fundamentally metrical, it is not written in sentences like prose. But even this gets blurry at times because there is also such a thing apparently as “prose poems” and some poets pull this off quite well…like Robert Hass or C.K. Williams for example. However, I think it is important to remember that despite what the philosopher Derrida might think, in the development of human culture speech preceded literacy and writing, and so the earliest poets sang and recited their poems as a way of helping people to remember important stories, events, and history. Thus, by necessity the earliest poems were often put to a repetitive, memoizable form, sometimes accompanied by drum or lyre. These poems had a beat. These poems were musical. And I find that these are the kinds of poems I still get the most satisfaction out of today among the contemporary poets some critics have labeled as “New Formalist”…poets like A.E. Stallings, Timothy Steele, Richard Wilbur, Dana Gioia, Gail White, and others. But while these are the kinds of poets writing the kinds of poems I naturally gravitate to, I do think it is important to keep one’s reading of poetry rather ecumenical, so I also enjoy plenty of so-called free verse poets like Charles Wright, whose book Black Zodiac won the Pulitzer Prize. In one of the poems in that book, Charles writes:
“Poetry’s what’s left between the lines—
a strange speech and a hard language,
It’s all in the unwritten, it’s all in the unsaid…”
Now it’s your turn! Who are some of your favorite poets? Who should I be reading? Let me know in the comments below!
Also, I love to talk about poetry and theology. If you would like to chat with me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram! Follow me to keep up with my latest book reviews, sermon topics, or just to see more pictures of Tinkerbell the chihuahua and Zeus the cat!