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Poetry Moment: 'Proper Use of Knots in the Wild' by Grant Clauser

Poet Grant Clauser
Photo by Alex Cope
Poet Grant Clauser

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “Proper Use of Knots in the Wild” by Grant Clauser.

Grant Clauser lives in Hatfield, PA, only a few miles from where he was born, but he mostly grew up in the Lehigh Valley. He is the author of five books, including Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, winner of the Codhill Press Poetry Award. His poems have appeared widely in such journals and magazines as The American Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, and The Kenyon Review. He works as an editor for The New York Times and teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA program in creative writing.

At one point in human history, most every person knew how to tie a variety of knots. They were essential to our everyday lives, sometimes even to our survival. My grandmother taught me how to fish, and along with fishing came lessons in how to tie particular knots so the fish wouldn’t break the line and swim away. She also taught me to sew and showed me a very different kind of knot to place at the ends of the thread. Have you ever felt like your stomach is tied in knots when you’re anxious? Have you asked someone when they’re going “to tie the knot,” referring to marriage as a tie that binds. Knots have metaphoric resonance. From Greek culture, we inherited the legend of the Gordian Knot, which suggests a problem so intractable that it cannot be solved.

In today’s world of virtual realities, how many of us can still tie a knot that might hold the weight of another person, that might keep them from falling or help them cross a rushing river, a chasm of endless air?


Proper Use of Knots in the Wild

One end goes around the lodgepole pine,
one through the loop, two half hitches
secure the ridgepole, three bind the devil.
A bowline can get you down a cliff face,
but a sheepshank won’t last the day.
Stop a fraying cord with a snake whip
or burn the edges as a last resort.
What if you need to cross a creek?
What if the wind feels different
since you’ve been alone, like
the weight of leaves shouting
against your back? You need
to tie things down, keep the world’s
hungry jaws away from what
little you’ve got left. You probably
left a faucet running, a burner
on the kitchen stove. Something
you forgot to say when you were
younger. Trust a clove hitch
for your guyline, a timber
for your pack. Faith goes on
without you. Regret follows
you home. Tie your tent poles tight.
Snug your food in a tree.
Get across that creek tonight.


That was “Proper Use of Knots in the Wild” by Grant Clauser.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Music by Eric Ian Farmer.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.