Clutching Lambs

Image result for Janet Passehl + poet + photosTHE BOOK: Clutching Lambs


THE AUTHOR:  Janet Passehl

: Megan Carey

: Negative Capability Press, Mobile, Alabama

SUMMARY:  Clutching Lambs brings together poems that are driven by language itself, wrought against a hidden background of peril and loss. The poems are haunted by the vulnerable— women, children, the occasional man or wild animal. This is an emotional book. Architecture and the natural world frame the psychological content. There estrangement from religious faith, the sense that one will not be protected, a lesson I learned repeatedly and at too young an age. My background as a visual artist impacts this book via my use of imagery as well as my occasional use of ekphrasis as a starting point.

The poems in Clutching Lambs are not intended to be parsed for story, but to be entered and experienced as extended lingual, visual, and aural moments that are simultaneously inhabited by the numinous and the concrete.

Clutching Lambs is divided into three sections whose titles are emblematic of its themes, tones, and language. These titles are, “Liquescence”; “body: any bounded aggregate of matter”; and “(C)love(n)”. Together, they pretty much say it all, about the fluidity, boundaries, and the schismatic nature of the human experience.

THE BACK STORY: The poems in Clutching Lambs were written over a period of about four or five years (except for one title, Bleat and Sigh Night, a line I wrote about twenty-five years ago and never forgot). I didn’t set out to write a book but at a certain point decided to put everything together to see what I had. I was surprised at the consistency of the themes that emerged when I began to sort what had seemed like disparate poems. Once I realized that I had what amounted to a statement, I felt a great sense of urgency to see the book published.

WHY THIS TITLE?:  I arrived at the title through brainstorming, reading old drafts of poems, and so on. The title does a lot of work in terms of the language and themes in the book. The two words are completely at odds with one another in their connotations, but both have sonic and visual tactility. Together they create plasticity and ambiguity. Clutching connotes unwelcome, even ugly, grasping, but also clinging in desperation. Lambs are the innocents, and in religious terms may be either the protected flock, or the sacrificed. Shortly after I settled on the title, which was long before I had a publisher, I went to Naples, the city of my ancestry, for the first time. It was an emotional trip for me in part because my mother had recently died. Neapolitan artisans are famous for making terracotta figurines, and there I found a figurine of a shepherd clutching the bleeding lamb, which ended up on the cover of the book. The figure is ambiguous—did the shepherd slaughter the lamb, or is he rescuing it? The figurine became a talisman during the time I was looking for a publisher.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The ideal audience would consist of creative thinkers who are willing and able to digest poetry in unexpected ways. Last year I was invited to give a reading in front of a display of some of my drawings. My drawings are completely non-representational and just consist of lines, single or grouped. A psychiatrist in the audience told me later that while I was reading, she watched the drawings turn into landscapes, and when I stopped reading, they went back to being just linear. A recent reader of Clutching Lambs told me she felt as if she were physically chewing on language. In form, language, and imagery, the book is full of surprise. There are two long prose poems in the last section that are a response to Gertrude Steins’ Tender Buttons. They’re wild and dark and funny.



“These poems with an artist’s sensibility leave all our senses – taste, smell, sight an sound and the nameless one that registers presence – more alive and open.” — Philip Gross

“Janet Passehl is . . . a scrupulous constructor of poems so unsettling, tender, inventive, and mysterious that savvy readers are sure to embrace Clutching Lambs.” — Jeanne Marie Beaumont.

“The mood of Janet Passehl’s marvelous collection is wintry, a chiaroscuro of sudden bright flashes and shadowy figures . . . “ — Ann Lauterbach

AUTHOR PROFILE:  “I’ve been a visual artist for about thirty years, exhibiting in the U.S., Europe and Australia. I joke that I wasn’t making enough money so I decided to become a poet. Early in my art practice I combined writing and assemblage, but at a certain point decided to see how much I could convey with materials alone, and I eliminated words. Then, about twelve years ago during a flight to San Francisco to visit my sister, I felt suddenly compelled to write poetry. I had been writing sporadically throughout my life, but had never before felt such urgency. Fortuitously, I had brought along a notebook, so I started right there on the plane, and continued during all hours of the night, thanks to jet-lag, and while riding the bus around the city— stealing snippets of conversations, signage etc. Within a year or so I was enrolled in Stonecoast Writers Program at the University of Southern Maine, from which I graduated in 2010.

“I still maintain an active art practice, including a show coming up in May at 57W57Arts in New York City. Examples of my poems can be see in several issues of Caliban On-line, including Issues 7, 13, 17, and 30.

“I live in a small riverside town near the coast. The view from my window is of estuarial wetlands, and they seep into my poems. My husband Chris, also an artist, and I inhabit a renovated 1950s modern home with our current greyhound Lee Lee Belle, and the ghosts of greyhounds past.”

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Excerpt from “Bleat and Sigh Night”

Dear Gertrude, I want to, I badly want to. Does the bone protruding from my ear shock you? Character can change when a bone is thrown. An occasion is stirring so don’t be surprised if there is nothing to eat. Cake is not nourishment but solace and solace is silence and statutes shake the mountain douse the tender. Darkness ignites training retraining shivering and more flammable drinking. Expiration stops a spark and on the whole binds us. River ringing the mountain is C.

There is little more to sing but much to chop. Do not be sheepish. Eat the chop chiefly but do not chop the lamb. She is more than a little. Whisper, whisper against hearing.

(Copyright Janet Passehl, courtesy of Negative Capability Press.)


PRICE: $15.95


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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