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Tom Clark Interview

 

Tom Clark was born and raised in Chicago and attended the universities of Michigan and Cambridge. From Britain in the 1960s he edited a series of mimeograph magazines featuring a generation of younger poets who would also appear in The Paris Review during his tenure there as poetry editor from 1963–1973. 

His poetry collections include: Junkets on a Sad Planet (Black Sparrow Books), Empire of Skin (Black Sparrow Books), When Things Get Tough on Easy Street (Black Sparrow Books), Paradise Resisted (Black Sparrow Books), Fractured Karma (Black Sparrow Books), Light & Shade: New & Selected Poems (Coffee House), The New World (Libellum), Something in the Air (Shearsman), Feeling for the Ground (Blazevox), At the Fair (Blazevox) and Canyonesque (Blazevox).  

He has written books on sports and popular culture, as well as a number of literary biographies: Damon Runyon, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Edward Dorn. He has written fiction and literary reviews for many newspapers and journals, including The New York Times, Times Literary Supplement, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, for which he served as poetry critic. He has taught literature at a number of colleges and universities, and has been a member of the Core Faculty in Poetics at New College of California.

He also has a poetry blog,
Beyond the Pale
.

   

Jeffrey Side has had poetry published in various magazines such as Poetry Salzburg Review, and on poetry websites such as Underground Window, A Little Poetry, Poethia, Nthposition, Eratio, Pirene’s Fountain, Fieralingue, Moria, Ancient Heart, Blazevox, Lily, Big Bridge, Jacket, Textimagepoem, Apochryphaltext, 9th St. Laboratories, P. F. S. Post, Great Works, Hutt, The Dande Review, Poetry Bay and Dusie.

 

He has reviewed poetry for Jacket, Eyewear, The Colorado Review, New Hope International, Stride, Acumen and Shearsman. From 1996 to 2000 he was the deputy editor of The Argotist magazine.

 

His publications include, Carrier of the Seed, Distorted Reflections, Slimvol, Collected Poetry Reviews 2004-2013, Cyclones in High Northern Latitudes (with Jake Berry) and Outside Voices: An Email Correspondence (with Jake Berry), available as a free ebook here.

 

 

 

JS: When did you first become interested in poetry?

 

TC: It must have been about 1957 or 1958. The first poems I remember liking a lot--as opposed to merely enduring as school assignments--were by (and I must admit this memory is pretty vague) e.e. cummings and Federico Garcia Lorca (Verde, te quiero verde...).

 

JS: When did you first start writing poems?

 

TC: I began then tinkering with some of my own self-serious small verse emissions, strictly in private mind you, in my environment such an activity would have been indefensible, and I've never much enjoyed playing defense.

 

Then at university it all opened up. The compulsory late Fifties Lowell period was followed shortly by several other more lasting interests, Stevens, Williams... and then there came the shock of encountering Ezra Pound, like walking out one morning and stumbling into in a deep canyon where a broad river gave issue to streams and rillets that led off and back and around and fanned out alluvially to flow toward everything in creation... and one's previous narrow path had been forgotten. Then read world literature as well as all world poetries intensely, acquiring at least at neophyte level such languages as were necessary for the journeying. Did an honors thesis on The Cantos that was published in the East/West Review, Kyoto.

 

By 1962-63 was writing quite a lot of poetry, won a university prize, had begun to publish. Went over to Cambridge in '63 and during my first year there found myself publishing poems in Poetry (Chicago), New Statesman, Spectator, Listener, TLS, Encounter, etc. That year also, Fall of '63, I took up poetry editorship of The Paris Review.

 

JS: You were poetry editor for The Paris Review at a young age (22). Did being so young affect your editorial decisions to any marked degree?

 

TC: No, I don't think so. The boldness or foolishness or whatever it was that caused me to summarily jettison the entire backlog of poems accepted by my editorial predecessor--several issues' worth in fact--probably resulted less from youth than from some permanent quality or defect of character.

 

At any rate I solicited and published in that venue poems from poets I'd been reading, Olson, Dorn, Creeley, Ashbery, O'Hara, Schuyler, Ginsberg, Duncan, Whalen, Blaser, Wieners, Eigner, Zukofsky, Niedecker, Oppen, Bunting, others; as well as from a number of younger American poets of my own generation and even the next, Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Joanne Kyger, Aram Saroyan; and eventually also, once I'd gone back to the US, Clark Coolidge, Joe Ceravolo, Alice Notley, Jim Carroll, et al.

 

JS: You studied at Cambridge University in Britain during the 1960s. What was your impression of British poetry as compared to American poetry at that time?

 

TC: While at Cambridge I met others who were interested in some of those earlier poetries I've just mentioned: Andrew Crozier (who was at Christ's), Jeremy Prynne, John Temple (both of them resident at the college where I was a grad student, Gonville and Caius, the former as a tutor, the latter an undergrad and happily for me my good friend and house mate). The poet Tom Lowenstein was at Kings then, and we became friends; we've stayed in touch all these years. I also met Robert Creeley, whom I'd published and corresponded with (he was at New Mexico then), when he came over to do some readings, including one at the Kings Cross pub in Cambridge, not far from my then digs on the Newmarket Road, across from the Star Brewery and Midsummer Commons. RC and I would remain friends for over forty years.

 

JS: After Cambridge you studied at Essex University (also in Britain) where you knew Andrew Crozier with whom you edited the magazine The Wivenhoe Park Review. What motivated you both to start a magazine?


TC: In '65-'67 I was at Essex, teaching a bit, working on a protracted and never to be completed Pound dissertation, and there continued to do the PR editing and also started a mimeograph magazine series, Once, that ran to ten issues plus four chapbooks. I featured many of the poets named above (encouraged them to send me all their work, used what I could in PR, the rest in the mimeo). Also published in that series some young English poets I'd gotten to know, like Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood, Tom Pickard.

And yes, while there I also founded and edited The Wivenhoe Park Review with Andrew Crozier, who like me had come over from Cambridge to Essex. As to motivation... It was operated under a sort of official departmental subsidy in that we were afforded the equipment and services of the university print shop. (Whereas my own truly underground mimeo magazine was cranked out in the middle of the night in a broom closet, strictly sub rosa, and then snuck into the outgoing university mail under the disapproving noses of the night porters.) Donald Davie, who'd been my Ph.D. supervisor at Caius, had come over to start the new Department of Literature at Essex; in my second year there he brought in Ed Dorn (from Idaho), so there was that particularly interesting poet, soon a good friend, as company. The Dorns were living on the old Roman Road in Colchester; while at Essex I lived off at the coast in a cottage in Brightlingsea owned by John Barrell (whom I'd known at Cambridge when he'd been an undergrad at Trinity) and his wife Audrey.

Perhaps this comes back to your earlier question, "What was your impression of British poetry as compared to American poetry at that time?"

Well, it was my immediate poetic environment. I would go down to London at the weekend and see poets there, like Tom Raworth in Barnet and Lee Harwood in the East End. Other welcoming ports of call in London were the abodes of the poet Anselm Hollo and the publisher Barry Hall. All of the above became good friends. I also got around the landscape quite a bit to wherever there were readings, it was very much an impromptu read-if-you-show-up scene, so I hitchhiked all round and did readings from Newcastle (with Andrew Crozier, in Tom Pickard's Morden Tower, where too I was able to meet other interesting poets in Tom's orbit, both younger, as Barry McSweeney, and older, as Basil Bunting) to Nottingham (I remember Jonathan Williams, Brian Patten and Adrian Henry showing up at a jamboree reading there) to Oxford (where I read several times, to microscopic audiences of course), all the way down to Bristol (where in the thickets of Somerset I heard but did not see my first nightingale). There were a number of poets I'd routinely bump into on these volunteer junkets. Gael Turnbull, Michael Shayer, Roy Fisher, Jeff Nuttall, Bob Cobbing, Dom Sylvester Houédard, John Furnival were about, Michael Horovitz and Pete Brown were regulars, and Spike Hawkins whose work I especially liked, and also two Canadians, Lionel Kearns and Gerry Gilbert. The American poet Harry Fainlight then living in London was a familiar from that same time. Of course there were many readings in London as well. The biggest was a grand show at the Albert Hall in spring of '65. Readers as I recall were Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Robert Graves, Adrian Mitchell, Christopher Logue, Simon Vinkenoog, Ernst Jandl and a few lesser lights such as myself. I wore an overlarge black leather coat I'd bought for five quid on the King's Road two weeks before and read my poem "Superballs". Someone deep in the dark reaches of an upper balcony (how many holes would it take to fill the Albert Hall), once I'd announced the title of the poem, hollered, in a Cockney accent, "Wot?" I repeated the title. "Wot? again. A third time I tried. Once more the echoic bellow, "Wot?"

JS: During your stay in Britain, you hitchhiked across the country with Allen Ginsberg while he was visiting there in 1965. You also interviewed him for The Paris Review. What were your impressions of him during this time?

TC: We met at an art gallery in Bristol where we were both taking part in one of those informal, round-robin readings. We'd been in touch by mail, I had solicited poetry, we had had a pleasant correspondence. After the reading there was a crazy motorcycle sidecar ride through the wilds of Somerset and a long crowded night with what seemed like a hundred but was probably closer to ten poets trying to sleep on John James's extremely overcrowded floor. (Beyond which there peacefully slumbered sheep.) Allen, just back from an evidently somewhat exhausting stay in Prague, where he'd been elected King of the May, had a persistent hacking cough, so that the brief periods of sleep for everybody were synchronized with his gulps of some codeine cough medicine he had brought back from Prague along with whatever bacteria.

Allen was the first "international poet" I'd known. He had an acute sense of his international audience and thus, doing an interview in The Paris Review appealed to him immensely. We then hitchhiked together to Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury, where he plucked a flower from King Arthur's grave. There followed intense rainstorms and various further those-were-the-days adventures. Eventually by way of Bath and Reading (this begins to sound like a tale from Fielding or Defoe) we reached London. By then there was perforce a nice empathy. We went on up to Cambridge. Allen camped at my digs, while we taped the interview, on an old, borrowed and beat-up reel-to-reel machine, in several sessions. We went on several expeditions to the Fitzwilliam, where Allen wanted to clamp his glims on the Blake manuscript exhibitions. And he wanted to be taken to meet Morgan Forster at King's, which was nearly a disaster. The great novelist was not at home or at any rate not answering the door to unexpected visitors. I'd been to see him before, but that had been at Forster's invitation, in company with his former student George Plimpton. Allen left his calling card, a handwritten note covered with fields of daisies and skulls and crossbones. Have a nice day!

 

 

 

Copyright © Tom Clark & Jeffrey Side