Highlighted by the Robert Creeley Foundation
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Meet our March Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight: Robert J. Clawson

Highlighted by The Robert Creeley Foundation

Robert J. Clawson attended a two-room schoolhouse, studied with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College, did a hitch in the Marine Corps, taught high-school English, then entered business, where he wrote, edited, and directed a creative department. He began writing poetry in 1996. Published in The Southern Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Christian Science Monitor, The Lancet, and several other journals, Bob has featured in NYC; Galway, Clifden, and Cleggan, Ireland; Spetses, Greece; Forsyth Chapel, Nantucket Athenaeum, and many other venues. He’s a founder of the Robert Creeley Award and the Robert Creeley Foundation.
Poetic Profession "Make it sound good.  If it ain’t got that swing…fuggedaboudit.  I like a challenge, whether it’s a form, a rhythm, or a subject.  A poet told me that dream poems were the most difficult, so I wrote one.  Another told me that if he had to read another sestina, he’d vomit.  So, I wrote one.  In a workshop, Stephen Dunn asked if anyone wanted homework.  I, alone, raised my hand. Dunn said, 'Okay, let’s see…write the secret history of rock and roll.' So I wrote it." -Robert J. Clawson

The Secret History of Rock'n'Roll      

 
bebung  ... nMus.  A pulsating or
trembling  effect given to a sustained
note; spec. such an effect produced on
the clavichord by rocking the fingertip. 
                        New Shorter O.E.D., 1993
 
 
Instead of settling the bole
of a willow, a queen bee chose
the hole of an idle guitar.
In time, she set off a buzz. 
 
I'll be damned, Chuck Berry waxed,
if I could bang this axe with those
drones inside, can you imagine
the reverberations?  I'm talkin'
beebop to bee balm, beebop a lo,
Queenie, bah ding, show me the dough!
 
So, Berry took off from acoustic
rhythm and blues by woodshedding,
first in daylight, delicate stuff
like Always  and Honeysuckle Rose,                       
suffering the stings of nectared-up
workers, their outraged honeys.
Be-ding, be-dong, his thickening
thumb and fingers bungled through days                     
till they got so sore he couldn't
play Nadine in a dim, wee-wee-
hours ginmill. What's the beef, Chuck?
some pale ding-a-ling shouted from
a table lush with longneck Buds.
 
That was it.  He walked, his mitts hidden
in his yellow jacket, his head
hung until he'd cleared the marquee,
then out they flew, his fingers,
swarming, as they played the air:
be-diddly, be-doo, Johnny B. Goode.
 
Back home he spooned out Epsom Salt
to soak his thumb and four fat fingers,
then lifted the possessed guitar.
Domino, he mused...Blueberry
Hill. Why not? These little suckers
like their sweets and I ain't got chops
for nothin' better than that sappy
hushaby. Can't pick that, can't play. 
 
He plucked the bass string.  Lo, no bees,
yet, bebung.    He plucked the bass
and tenor string.  He pressed the spoon
against them, rocked his fingertip:
bebung.  Shit be damned...    
tremolo.   Roll over Beethoven!
 
These bees sleepin'?   He thumbed a chord.
The buzz without the sting. 
He was electrified.  Trembling,
he rolled more chords.  His eyes squeezed shut.
Maybellene, why can't you be true?  
Maybellene....
 
He felt the drones and workers stir.
Be calm.  Be calm,  he told himself,
he told the bees...but no one else.
 

The Robert Creeley Foundation, based in Acton, Creeley’s home town, honors his memory with: an annual Robert Creeley Award to top-flight poets: a statewide high-school competition for the Helen Creeley Student Poetry Prize; poetry workshops; a student broadside competition; and open-mic readings. The RCF is an alliance between the Acton Memorial Library, Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, and ordinary citizens. Students normally comprise a third to one half of its membership, including one officer. Thursday night will be the 15th Annual Robert Creeley Award.

Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners.
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