The Student Literary Journal of Vermont State University



If You Like Difficulty is one of the most inspiring, intriguing, and perplexing collections of poetry I have read.  Jan Clausen is the author of two previous titles of poetry, as well as two novels and a memoir, Apples and Oranges: My Journey Through Sexual Identity (Houghton Mifflin). Her use and mastery of language in these poems is striking: The diction and musicality of it reflect as she calls it a “caddywompus” world. If You Like Difficulty was published by Harbor Mountain Press.

Jan Clausen prefaces her poetry with a definition of the word ablation, which is: 1.) Surgical excision or amputation of a body part or tissue; 2.) The erosive process by which a glacier is reduced; 3.) Aerospace the dissipation of heat generated by atmospheric friction, especially in the atmospheric reentry of a spacecraft or missile, by means of a melting heat shield. Ablation appears thrice, once as a definition, once in the middle of the book as a second half and once as the title of the final poem. My favorite theory of why Clausen forces the importance of ablation is a metaphor for life, as each of us is our own glacier slowly dissipating into the universe. This is reinforced by her chronology of poems. As the book progresses each poem plays off of the next.

The first poem “Voxology”, also the section title, is an immediate hook displaying her unique style. “Voxology” is written almost scattered around the page occasionally shouting at you holding your attention. Streamlining into the next poem “Happenstance”, which is written is a much more tame dimension with two line stanzas. The book narrates her life from the start, beginning with adolescence continuing to her time spent at Goddard College. If the poems were to be read singularly they would seem well rounded on their own filling in themes with their own context; however, when read all the way through this collection of poetry is very fluid working together to capture certain truths. Clausen exhibits this in one of the shorter poems “Poetry in Motion”, which exemplifies her ability to carry a message with only four lines.

Sappho’s wailing in the subway;

you can barely hear her lyre,

wedged between a boombox minstrel

and an expert on hellfire (27).

            While this is one of the more simple poems in her book Jan, yet these four lines hold immense mystery referencing Sappho, a Greek lyric poet from 500BC, in a subway; one of the most modern depictions she could’ve chosen. If You Like Difficulty has left me speechless. There is so much raw yet refined power in this book coupled with multiple references, from Franz Kafka to Thoreau, one could gather more and more about this book every time it’s opened.



- By: Jack McCarthy


(Jack McCarthy)