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Eric Herman Blog: A Serendipitous Meeting

Clewell Sq

The cover of Clewell's book.The cover of Clewell's book.In January 2015, we published a brief piece I wrote about a photograph from the early '60s depicting an ad for a pool builder who was building bomb shelters. The irony of a company that builds a luxury item essentially moonlighting by installing structures designed to keep homeowners safe in the event of a nuclear holocaust was not lost on me, or, as luck would have it, poet David Clewell.

RELATED: When Pool Builders Built Bomb Shelters

Clewell, a former poet laureate for the state of Missouri, was looking for cover art for his new book, “Almost Nothing To Be Scared Of,” when he ran across the AQUA article.

Clewell reached out to me, looking for the image, but I was unable to help provide the high-resolution version of the photo he needed. The image had originally appeared in the The Long Beach Press Telegram back in 1961 and was only available from the newspaper’s archive in a relatively low-res file, which was not useable as book cover art.

Undeterred, Clewell’s wife, Patricia, set out to track down a suitable version of the original photograph. That search led her to the estate of German photographer Max Scheler, who had become well known for his socially conscious images that often centered on Cold War themes. 

“It was one of my favorite images from the Cold War,” Clewell explained. “As a kid we would ‘duck and cover’ and were issued dog tags in the event we were burned beyond recognition in a nuclear attack. That image works on a variety of levels, capturing both the fear of the times along with the desire for luxury. I had found other images that would’ve worked, but that was the one I really wanted on the cover.”

With this connection between us, Clewell and I have struck up a friendship and now correspond on a frequent basis. Clewell’s book was just published this month by the University of Wisconsin Press, which happens to be located just blocks away from AQUA’s headquarters in Madison.  

Clewell is a critically acclaimed poet and an English instructor at Webster University in Webster Groves, Mo., and “Almost Nothing...” is his ninth book of poetry.

“It’s funny how things work out sometimes,” Clewell said. “I was able to use the image I wanted and made a friend in the process. That’s serendipity!” 

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