Jacket magazine     [»»] More Author Notes        [»»] Jacket Homepage

Click on the button to go to the section below:
[»»]  Jacket links    [»»]  Biography    [»»]  Statements    [»»]  Bibliography

Tom Clark

Tom Clark

Tom Clark is the author of numerous volumes of poetry as well as of several critical biographies of writers, including

He lives in Berkeley and has a blog: http://www.tomclarkblog.blogspot.com/.

Links to items in Jacket magazine:

Jacket 3: Tom Clark, two poems

Jacket 4: Dale Smith reviews White Thought by Tom Clark

Jacket 7: Tom Clark, Selected Poems by Philip Whalen

Jacket 9: Tom Clark, Edward Dorn (1929–1999)

Jacket 9: Tom Clark, three poems

Jacket 12: Tom Clark, poems from Cold Spring

Jacket 12: Tom Clark reviews Hotel Imperium by Rachel Loden

Jacket 12: Dale Smith reviews The Spell by Tom Clark

Jacket 15: Tom Clark reviews 100 Multiple-Choice Questions by John Ashbery

Jacket 15: Tom Clark, ‘Another Sleepless Night’ (for Kenneth Koch)

Jacket 16: Tom Clark, ‘My Joe Brainards’

Jacket 16: Tom Clark, excerpt from Edward Dorn: A World of Difference

Jacket 16: Tom Clark, ‘Phil’ (for Philip Whalen)

Jacket 20: Tom Clark. Letters home from Cambridge (1963–65)

Jacket 21: Tom Clark, Thirteen poems

Jacket 21: Tom Clark, Double Take: Creeley’s New Poems

Jacket 21: Tom Clark interviewed by Beat Scene editor Kevin Ring

Jacket 21: Tom Clark, from ‘Who is Sylvia?’

Jacket 21: Tom Clark and Anne Waldman, Zombie Dawn [a collaboration]

Jacket 28: Tom Clark, ‘All’ (for Robert Creeley)

Jacket 29: On the Nature of the Lyric: Tom Clark in conversation with Ryan Newton

Jacket 29: Elaine Equi reviews Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems by Tom Clark

Jacket 35: Tom Clark: Seven poems

Jacket 36: Tom Clark: Two poems

Jacket 37: Tom Clark: Three poems

Jacket 40: Tom Clark: Eleven poems


Tom Clark was born (1941) and grew up in Chicago, where as a young man he ushered at public events featuring such figures of the era as Joe DiMaggio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bobby Hull, Ted Williams, Ernie Banks and Harry S. Truman. He graduated in 1963 from the University of Michigan and did postgraduate studies in England at the Universities of Cambridge and Essex. In the 1960s he began editing poetry publications small and large, from the free-radical Once series of mimeographed books and magazines to The Paris Review (serving as poetry editor from 1963 to 1973). Over the years he has worked variously as a teacher, writer, critic and artist. He has published his poetry in such collections as Stones, Air, John’s Heart, At Malibu, When Things Get Tough on Easy Street, A Short Guide to the High Plains, Paradise Resisted, Disordered Ideas, Fractured Karma, Sleepwalker’s Fate, and Like Real People; poetry mingles with history in Empire of Skin, an account of the Northwest Coast fur trade, and with biography in Junkets on a Sad Planet, a verse life of John Keats. Biography also provides the major form of many of his books in prose, including Late Returns: A Memoir of Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place, Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet’s Life, and Edward Dorn: A World of Difference. Among his books containing writings on and images of sports and popular culture are The World of Damon Runyon, Champagne and Baloney, One Last Round for the Shuffler, Fan Poems, No Big Deal, Baseball, and Things Happen for a Reason. His works of fiction include a volume of tales, The Last Gas Station, and three novels, Who Is Sylvia?, The Exile of Céline, and The Spell: A Romance (parts of which have been recorded in a collaborative project with the musician/composer Clark S. Nova, under the title Doofus Voodoo). His literary essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Times Literary Supplement, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, London Review of Books, and many other journals; some of his essays on contemporary poetry have been collected in The Poetry Beat: Reviewing the Eighties.

[ top of page ]

Statements on poetics

As a writer, I’ve tried to aim at meanings.  The rub is that what seemed a simple enough wish proved to be a tall order.  It turns out that the entanglement of poetic meanings in historical communities (this used to be called “contingency”) is absolute, and that this fact has a rather dictatorial power (as in dictating the words in your poems, the dichten or dictée).  The empirical truth of the matter, we come to find, underwrites Wordsworth’s famous adage about poets beginning in their youth in joy and gladness and later ending up in despondency and madness; that’s no more than mere observation, really.  The most apparently sublime or sublimated lyric utterance, we discover, is never perfectly clean, it comes with dirt and roots attached – which, if he were ever to see them, might make Dr. Syntax blanch (or Blanche doctor her syntax).  To put this another way, speech is never really free.
    Acting as though the world of words were its own even when it patently is not, poetry whistles in the dark of an empty theatre, yet sometimes somehow manages to bring down the house.  Doing so, the accidental and contingent ruins it leaves seem curiously vivid and alive at the same time as they are necessarily frozen in time, along with the other detritus of history.
    The source of poetry’s uncanny staying power is that it somewhat miraculously keeps itself embedded in continuity, process.  The motion of its parts comes to a halt and yet its whole remains visible to the mind qua motion in this standstill.  These moving parts rush out on a limb so as to fall into eternity (as our doubles) or back into history (perdition): take your pick, something begins, it’s the action in the last-chance saloon continuously replaying.
    One starts from a feeling or something seen or a word.  A sound occurs, like a rustling sound heard at evening through a forest.  Is it the murmuring of the wind in the trees or the distant rushing of a stream?  The dream of a world in which things would be different, antagonisms would be dissolved, suffering and domination would disappear, and there would be no more authority to which to report, takes place in that sound, is immanent there, while everything external to it dies away.  In this moment what is human, language itself, seems to become natural creation again.
    And now we have come to what we aimed for – for in this moment a poem offers the illusion of nature.  Nature is Imagination itself, Blake conjectured.  An act of the imagination, whatever else may be said about it, is never a bought situation.  So here we come to the door in the wall through which poetry escapes from history (i.e. its own lying), where it began, only to find itself confronted with a two-way mirror in which it actually glimpses that nature to which its expressions have so long referred with such gestures of distant sublimated longing.  This mirror is the “I” whose voice is heard in the poem, a collective expression no matter how singular its utterance may seem.  Think of the folk ballad and remember that history is after all just what we define it as; any good poet focuses for us the most vivid sense (record) we will ever have of the actual moment of life of his or her own time.

[ top of page ]



Clark, Tom, Paradise Resisted: Selected Poems 1978-1984. Black Sparrow, 216 pp., $10. ISBN 0-87685-611-3 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Disordered Ideas. Black Sparrow, 202 pp., $10. ISBN 0-87685-695-4 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Fractured Karma.   Black Sparrow, 163 pp., $12.50. ISBN 0-87685-791-8 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Sleepwalker’s Fate: New and Selected Poems 1965-1991. Black Sparrow, 212 pp., $12.50. ISBN 0-87685-869-8 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats. Black Sparrow, 188 pp., $13. ISBN 0-87685-917-1 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Like Real People. Black Sparrow, 240 pp., $13.50. ISBN 0-87685-984-8 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Empire of Skin. Black Sparrow, 232 pp., $15. ISBN 1-57423-049-2 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Easter Sunday. Coffee House, 148 pp., $8.95. ISBN 0-918273-27-7 (paper)

Clark, Tom, White Thought. Hard Press/The Figures, 63 pp., $10. ISBN 1-889097-20-9 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Cold Spring: A Diary. Skanky Possum, 71 pp., $10. ISBN 0-970395-20-5 (paper)


Clark, Tom, The Last Gas Station and Other Stories. Black Sparrow, 151 pp., $10. ISBN 0-87685-456-0 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Who Is Sylvia?. Blue Wind, 126 pp., $9.95. ISBN 0-912652-53-5 (paper)

Clark, Tom, The Exile of Céline. Random House, 214 pp., $16.95. ISBN 0-394-55312-8 (hardback, o.p.)

Clark, Tom, The Spell: A Romance. Black Sparrow, 205 pp., $16. ISBN 1-57423-123-5 (paper)


Clark, Tom, The World of Damon Runyon. Harper & Row, 303 pp., $11.95. ISBN 0-06-010771-5 (hardback, o.p.)

Clark, Tom, Jack Kerouac. Thunder’s Mouth, 254 pp., $14.95. ISBN 1-56025-357-6 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Late Returns: A Memoir of Ted Berrigan. Tombouctou, 89 pp., $7. ISBN 0-939180-35-9 (paper, o.p.)

Clark, Tom, Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet’s Life. North Atlantic, 405 pp., $18.95. ISBN 1-55643-342-5 (paper)

Clark, Tom, Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place. New Directions, 150 pp., $19.95. ISBN 0-8112-1250-5 (hardback)

Clark, Tom, Edward Dorn: A World of Difference. North Atlantic, 434 pp., $25. ISBN 1-55643-397-2 (hardback)

Literary Essays

Clark, Tom, The Poetry Beat: Reviewing the Eighties. University of Michigan, 226 pp., $15.95. ISBN 0-472-09428-9 (paper)

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.

The Internet address of this page is http://jacketmagazine.com/bio/clark-t.html