Book Review     

Shedding My Three Piece Birthday Suit by David R. Clowers, Birchwinds Press, Box 13, Egg Harbor, WI 54209. Email: clowers(at)doorpi(dot)net. $10.

Reviewed by Richard Swanson

One way to measure the depth of Wisconsin's writing talent is to pay attention to its poets whose self-promotion is limited but who write for sheer enjoyment, mainly sharing their quality work with family, friends, and fellow writers. David Clowers is one such poet, and his Shedding My Three Piece Birthday Suit is worth writing away for.

Clowers has a sharp eye for seeing something unusual in everyday life, as in this celebration of a Spring day, with a pun at its core:

Bare Arms!

They're wheeling the racks
of tee-shirts out on Third Street,
and the blue birds are back.
Instead of chilly inhalations,
each breath feels warm around the edges,
and calls us to Bare Arms
against the tyranny of cold.

He has an adroit way of involving us in a dramatic scene too, and stepping strategically back from it, as in this childhood memory piece:

My First Command

I took an orange crate—
the Valencia Gold—
and packed its cracks
with modeling clay,
and tied a sheet to a stick
for a sail. After launching,
I stood on the dock, saluting
as my first command went down.

Clowers' appreciation for language runs deep, and his rich word play shows up in many of the works, like this one: 

Whiz, An exercise on the word:

On Monday morning, when
a deer leapt in front of my car,
the dozen Ritz Crackers—
that I had covered with Cheese Whiz
and had placed so carefully
(on a paper plate)
in the back seat of my Ford—
all whizzed by my head
and onto my windshield
like suicidal honeybees.
"Gee whiz! I said.
This week is beginning well.

This poet is well-read with a wide-ranging mind, and he loves tossing out an idea and letting it loose, as in the following, a spoofy philosophical meditation that ends up as self-help reminder. This poem will resonate with anyone struggling through parenting.

Why Would the Buddha Meditate on a Teenage Girl
(A parent's conundrum)

The First Noble Truth is
that all teenage girls suffer.
The Second Truth is
that anyone attached to
teenage girls suffers.
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Third Noble Truth is
that the cessation of suffering is attainable
and the Fourth is that the Eightfold path
to the cessation of suffering begins
on any one of eight roads out
of Tomahawk, Wisconsin
while riding on a Harley-Davidson
1987 Electra-Glide motorcycle.

Two or three poems in Clowers' chapbook explore the difficulties of Internet Age love relationships, a timely, worldly topic. Balancing out these far-reaching explorations are more down-home works with local appeal. One of the last poems in the book, for instance, “Anomalies,” has its source in a headline from the Green Bay Gazette, about a two-headed sturgeon taken on opening day of the spear-fishing season.

A sense of the macabre runs through the sturgeon poem and the book's final poem, “Pursuing the Dog Man of Wisconsin,” but bizarreness is kept well in hand—a deft fact or two to tease you, followed up with some wry speculation. In "Dog Man" it turns out the only evidence of a monster being's existence is hair from an American shorthair cat, prompting Clowers to wonder about the mindset of those absorbed with this mythic lore:

Were they hoping to see their fear
outside themselves instead of seeing it within?
Or is the answer simply that we all are looking for
what we really don't want to see.

Lines like these typify Clowers’ efforts: work well crafted, grounded in both global and familiar settings, and quietly provocative with regular surprises. His is another of those modest voices that enrich Wisconsin's poetry scene.

Richard Swanson lives in Madison, Wisconsin where he reads, gardens, and writes. His previous volume was Men in the Nude in Socks (Fireweed, 2006). His latest book is Not Quite Eden (Fireweed Press).