Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tom Clark and Arnold

Tom Clark  is associated with a mercifully unnamed grouping of poets several years older than myself who shook open the poetry scene of the 1960s and 1970s (after Olson and Duncan and Ginsberg and O'Hara) and who continued to create (those who survived like Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley and Tom) significant, even extraordinary, work through their middle years and into graceful (poetically speaking) age. For the past several years Tom has given much of his artistic intellect and energies to what he calls an ekphrastic blog, Beyond the Pale, but noting the abuses of that term by the faddish over the past 40 years (some fad), let me say that Tom only occasionally writes a poem about the painting or photograph, and when he does it's never in the manner of period-style practitioners: following the narrative of the poetic eye in its mini-epic voyage across the sea of images before it, or taking on an ideal authorial voice which magically overlaps with that of the original artist, sometimes even blithely waltzing into persona, but always with a studied sonority.

Rather, Beyond the Pale is ekphrasitc only in the sense that it contains pictures and (usually) text set in intensely interesting juxtaposition. (This last 4th of July consisted solely of eight Library of Congress photographs of 4th of July celebrations in the America of approximately100 years ago.) Further, the texts one usually finds are those of others, usually writers long dead: poems, memoirs, parts of essays and autobiographies which are set into interesting and energetic juxtaposition with the paintings and/or pictures. The images might as easily concern The Dust Bowl as be realized by the brush of a master and have little in common except their stunning quality and/or historical-cultural-economic interest. All of themn work intelligently as well as artistically with the text(s).

I cannot say enough good about this blog. For me, Beyond the Pale provides a way to "tune myself" several mornings each week, recognizing the resonance (all over again) of that which is most meaningful, and of which I would be.

(I'm not sure how such things are followed. I am on a list and get an e-mail a couple times a week with about three links to the blog with short descriptions from Angelica Clark, Tom's wife, both the other's fair extension.)

(Thanks, Halvard, for allowing me to be part of this. Maybe not the main axle, but a shaft with cams!)

French Toast in Two Takes
–Tom Clark

1. Dover Beach, or the Futility of Thought

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the Straits; -- on the French
Toast, the light
Syrup gleams but a moment,
And is gone
Down the hatch; for it is the light of France.
The cliffs of England stand
Made all of cardboard; a hand
Claps by itself. It gives itself a standing ovation.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into a his mind
A state of crashing ignorance.

2. French Toast

I have not eaten French toast
In this century, but I remember
Eating French toast.
I get the idea
I am remembering
From a theory.
No, not a theory, a feeling.
A feeling
I experienced long,
Long ago, by the Aegean perhaps, or beneath
The white cliffs of Dover
As the moon
Lay fair.

When I remember reading Dover Beach,
By which I mean when I read
Dover Beach
In my mind, these days,
Which I sometimes do,
It's like that itch you can't scratch,
A memory passes across my mind like a shadow
And is gone, taking
Matthew Arnold,
His poem,
The history of English poetry,
The English language,
Greek tragedy,
The Aegean,
The Straits of Dover,
All the water
Between Cap Gris Nez
And Cap Finisterre
And me
And you, sleeping
In the room next to me
Along with it.

On second thought,
No, not taking you.

I wish you were here.
I have lit incense.
The moon lies fair.
It is almost time for breakfast.

(French Toast in Two Takes, 1976/2010)


Dover Beach
–Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.



Tom Clark was born in Chicago in 1941 and educated at the University of Michigan, Cambridge University and the University of Essex. He worked variously as an editor (The Paris Review), critic (Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle) and biographer (lives of Damon Runyon, Jack Kerouac, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn), has written novels (Who is Sylvia?, The Exile of Céline, The Spell) and essays (The Poetry Beat, Problems of Thought: Paradoxical Essays). His many collections of poetry have included Stones, Air, At Malibu, John's Heart, When Things Get Tough on Easy Street, Paradise Resisted, Disordered Ideas, Fractured Karma, Sleepwalker's Fate, Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats, Like Real People, Empire of Skin, Light and Shade, The New World, Something in the Air, Feeling for the Ground and At the Fair. He lives in Berkeley, California with his wife and partner of forty-three years, Angelica Heinegg. 

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