WALLINGFORD — Robert Claps might write longer stuff if he had more patience.
The 65-year-old retired software engineer loves poetry for its brevity, the way the right few words together can create a vivid image and strike chords musical or mythical so quickly.
“I’m not long-distance. I like to sprint,” Claps said Monday. “It’s like boxing. You get in there, you do your thing, knock them out and get out as quickly as possible.”
Claps hopes to knock out readers with his first book, a collection of poems called “Casting,” published by Antrim House of Bloomfield. Helping him pack those punches is the nearly 30 years he spent living in Wallingford.
Route 5, the Italian Club, the railroad tracks through town and Holy Trinity Church are among the places etched with Claps’ words in Casting. Included is a poem that would have been the titular piece of the collection but for a publisher’s insistence that a black-and-white photograph taken by a Record-Journal photographer of Claps and his father at the Wallingford Rod and Gun Club would have to go on the cover.
“Casting is meant to be about more than casting,” Claps said, “as in casting lines out to the past or to the future … It was all driven by that photograph. We thought it would have to be used.”
Wallingford is the setting of many of Claps’ poems. One, “Card Game at the Italian Club,” captures the timeless efforts of elderly men as life buzzes by:
But nothing stirs them or hurries
their pleasure; even the high idle
of homebound traffic, stalled and
steaming at the Route Five light,
can’t crack Montovani’s lush walls.
Day after day, deliberate and cautious,
they bid on the smallest stakes,
wanting only to break even. …
The book is available on pre-order for $16 as a paperback at amazon.com. Prior to the book, Claps’ work had been featured in national publications such as Grey's Sporting Journal, The Hollins Critic, Tar River Poetry, and the Connecticut River Review, which nominated his poem “Jump Shots At Sixty” for a Pushcart Prize, a national award given to poets working for small printing presses.
Wallingford, Claps said, gave him his beginning.
“What did Neil Young say? All my changes were there,” Claps said. “I grew up right in town, walking distance to the old library on Simpson Court. I spent many hours there. It was a great town to grow up in. It gave me everything, really. It never leaves you.”
Now that Antrim has published his first book, Claps’ goal, unsurprisingly, is to write a second. And his ambition is as difficult to achieve as it is easy to explain.
“What I would really like to do is write poems that are of a very high quality that are accessible to anyone. I don’t want to write poems that only people with a master’s degree can relate to,” he said. “I want to bring this art that people are just not sure of, or afraid of, into their lives. I don’t know. The enjoyment of it might have been schooled out of them, but with this [book] they can see that the materials of their lives are suitable for art. The everyday things in their lives can be made into art.”
Claps’ 66-page book can also be purchased directly via Antrim House at firstname.lastname@example.org.