Retired UI professor Jeff Porter publishes heart-wrenching memoir ‘Planet Claire’

After losing his wife suddenly, retired UI Professor Jeff Porter decided to channel his grief into a personal memoir, titled Planet Claire.



Cover art for Planet Claire and photo of the author, Jeff Porter.

Morgan Ungs, Arts Reporter

When Jeff Porter’s wife, Claire, asked him if he’d cut the fruit one morning in 2016, he didn’t know those would be her final words to him.

Porter, a retired University of Iowa Nonfiction writing professor, recently published the story of his grief following the untimely loss of his wife in his memoir Planet Claire: Suite for Cello and Sad-Eyed Lovers.

Through his turmoil and grief, readers are plunged into 274 pages of Porter’s past and present, and through space as he navigates what he calls “Planet Claire.” The piece beautifully describes what his life with her was like and what it will be like with her not there.

“When your partner dies, everything around you seems to collapse,” Porter writes on the prologue’s very first page. “You look deep within yourself, not for courage, just for the wherewithal not to lose your car in a parking garage.”

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The book also explores Claire’s life through Porter’s eyes and the memories captured with his camera lens. Each chapter swims in and out of memories from the first time they met to their last trip to Ireland before her death.

Porter describes Claire with admiration and fascination, not only for her beauty, but also for her intellectual abilities and writing skills.

“The elegance of your sentences is matched by the cogency of your mind,” Porter wrote. “Such a mind.”

Porter chose to write to Claire directly throughout the book in second-person, a rare stylistic approach among authors. In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Porter said writing in second-person helped him fill the void of her absence.

Porter said he also often found himself doing things like talking to a chair to try and create an imaginary presence while writing.

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“I think down deep, there’s an existential fear and terror of being alone,” he said.

This fear is something that Porter said many people manage to avoid thinking about, but when death comes, they must wake up and confront it.

In a way, writing his memoir was an effort to confront the strangeness of his wife’s death, Porter said. He said that, as a writer, he found his psychological state to be both compelling and compulsive and was something he wanted to share with others.

Porter said he was not only writing to reconstruct himself, but also so readers can see the strangeness of grief. He said he finds the experience of death and grief amazing and fascinating from a philosophical point of view.

“There’s something wonderful about grief,” he said. “It pushes you to feel and see things, the way you’ve never done so before.”