Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tom Clark interviewed by Gary Parrish, April 2009

Tom Clark and a stone fence in Vence, France, 25 July 1966



Sadly, this year we mark a decade without the poet Ed Dorn. Can you share with us your feelings or remembrances of him and his work, time spent together. Perhaps comment on Way More West: New & Selected Poems, edited by Michael Rothenberg, Penguin Books.


He is sorely missed.


The feelings and remembrances are present always.


A bit of the early history of this friendship is discussed in TC interview


The final chapter of the book written after Ed passed away is here: Edward Dorn: A World of Difference (Epilogue: The Last Range)


For those not familiar with the basic facts of his life and work, a short obituary essay: Edward Dorn obit (2000)


Latterly it has come to seem that one's subjectivities tell little about the objective truth of what exactly makes up the lives of others.  Whereof one is uncertain one ought not to speak. 


One thing that can be said objectively is that these are four of the poems from my own work that Ed was generous enough to favor--and they have been posted in his memory:


Following Rivers into the Night


All I want to do...








During the course of this interview baseball anomaly Mark  "The Bird" Fidrych passed away on his farm in Massachusetts. Fidrych, known for his surreal approach to pitching often talking to the ball and presenting himself to the pitchers mound was an instant fan favorite for the Detroit Tigers. Interesting that after the '76 season you both would collaborate on Fidrych’s autobiography, No Big Deal. Could you speak about that time preparing the manuscript with Fidrych and the atmosphere in America during the bicentennial?


There was a certain patriotic need for symbolic figuration at the time.   In the course of the 1976 season the outfielder Rick Monday, then of the Chicago Cubs, "rescued" an American flag which had been "disrespected" by a drunken fan invading the turf at Wrigley Field.   Much was made of it.   But the glorification of Monday's act was as nothing compared with the true and real cultural phenomenon created by Fidrych, whose innocence, intensity, vulnerability and infectious joy in life had a deeper reach, entering the American psyche not through the cheap pimping and hypolatry which are the sustenance of celebrity media, but through an actual possibility of fan identification with someone who was not an image construction but a living, feeling being (and those feelings were unselfconsciously exposed and immediately apparent).  There has been nothing like it since, and one doubts there ever will be.


Fidrych did not enrich himself.  The very sad ensuing seasons of injury and failure brought self-doubt, pain and bitterness into the story, but Mark then proved himself superior to these disappointments and worked earnestly to make a living and a home for himself and his family in a way with which, again, the common person could identify. 


Singing the praises of humans once they are gone is always too little and too late, but one tries:


No Big Deal: Mark Fidrych




New College of California, a bright spot on the landscape of the Mission District in SF for poets and thinkers alike has closed its doors as of '08. Can you speak with us about your time in residency there, 1987 to '08? What will you miss most? New Stars on the Horizon.


The school did provide a haven for many who for one reason or another couldn't manage to fit into conventional academia.  I suppose I was one of those misfits.  Let's not gild the lily here.  For all my nutty love of scholarship, the business end of academia has always seemed to me to represent a bullet in the heart of whatever poetry is.


It should perhaps be explained that over the nearly thirty years of my connection with New College the only class I conducted at the Mission District campus--well, the mortuary--was a writing workshop I offered as an adjunct instructor in 1978.  When in the following decade I returned as what was dwarf-grandly called Core Faculty in Poetics, I began teaching my classes at home in Berkeley.


Most of those classes were historical, with concentration on specific periods and single poets.  There were three courses in particular which I taught every other year for two decades or so, and to these three courses I directed a good deal of preparation and research.


The method was to inscribe poems and lecture notes, together with drawings, cartoons, and other forms of eye-candy (anything to keep students from nodding off) on large (48" by 36") sheets (actually the verso sides of the architectural plans for a Kaiser Hospital in Fresno--I had found them in somebody's recycling bin).  The sheets, actually more like large scrolls, were then affixed to a large painted styrofoam easel so that, during lectures, students would be able to stare at it, a form of attention hopefully quite a bit more pleasant than staring at their teacher and quite a bit more useful to their intellectual growth than staring out the window.


Then again, now that one thinks of it, staring out the window into the microworlds of the middle-tier branch structures  of a century-old redwood might well have proved more pleasant and instructive than either of the abovementioned options--and indeed some students did opt for this.


Those three courses alluded to above were:  Poetry of Ezra Pound; Lyric Poetry of the English Renaissance (Wyatt, Donne, Jonson, Campion, Herrick, Marvell); and This Living Hand: Poetry of John Keats.


For those whose lives are sufficiently empty to allow space for such pursuits, reproductions of eight of the twenty-nine Keats sheets--or "Deep Keats Scrolls" as Bill Berkson has dubbed them--can be found here:


Ode on a Grecian Urn 3/15/09

Ode on a Grecian Urn


Ode on Melancholy 3/15/09

Ode on Melancholy


Eve of St. Agnes 3/15/09

Eve of St. Agnes


Isabella 3/15/



Byron on Keats  3/15/09

Byron on Keats


Want of an Object  3/15/09

Want of an Object


On First Looking into Chapman's Homer  3/15/09

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer


Negative Capability  3/15/09

Negative Capability


I have listed the scrolls in reverse chronological order, with the entry-pieces at the bottom.  Anyone who wishes may click the links, then click again to enlarge, and presto--a New College Poetics degree!


And by the by, Gary, anybody who thinks a New College degree is not something to die for should consider the data in this recent article:


The Dark Prince





Wow, give me a day to research this and I'll send a new question.


Research like that can ruin your dreams, Gary, I wouldn't recommend it.





Did/Do you know Kaushal Niroula?


Gary, you have just made my day by reminding me of one happy fact to take away from my New College career.  The answer is no. 





Joe Wolff said...

Tom Clark is prolific and keeps it simple. His three classes at new college almost sound like a complete education.

Gary Parrish said...

Clark is one in ten million.