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Tom Clark


Thomas Willard Clark was born on March 1, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois. While growing up in Chicago as a young man, he served as an usher at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, where he saw such renowned figures of the era as Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Hull, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Harry S. Truman. His experiences among these figures are reflected in his poems, which frequently feature these and other prominent figures from the 1950s and ’60s.

Clark attended John Carroll University in Ohio for a year before transferring to the University of Michigan, where he earned his BA in 1963. That year, at the recommendation of his former teacher Donald Hall, Clark became the poetry editor of The Paris Review, a post he held until 1973. After graduating from college, he attended Cambridge University in England on a Fulbright Scholarship and earned his MA in 1965 before enrolling at the University of Essex for two years. During this time, Clark began writing and publishing poetry in earnest; he cites Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams as influences. While in England, he also hitchhiked across the country with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

A highly prolific writer, Clark published dozens of poetry collections, including Truth Game (BlazeVOX, 2013), Something in the Air (Shearsman Books, 2010), and Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2006).

Of Clark, Alice Notley writes, “The place he writes from, of void/non-void overlap, is a pure arena for the imagination to play in; and Clark is likewise pure: austere, bleak, exalted too … shimmering as ever.”

Billy Collins, in his review of Light & Shade, writes, “Tom Clark, the lyric imp of American poetry, has delivered many decades’ worth of goofy, melancholic, cosmic, playful, and wiggy poems. I can never get enough of this wise guy leaning on the literary jukebox, this charmer who refuses to part with his lovesick teenage heart.”

Clark is also known for his many works of prose; he authored several novels and biographies of people such as Ted Berrigan, Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Olson. He also published literary criticism in magazines such as the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

The recipient of awards from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts, Clark was an instructor in poetics at the New College of California for many years. He died on August 18, 2018 as the result of a car accident in Berkeley, California, where he lived. 

Selected Bibliography


Truth Game (BlazeVOX, 2013)
Distance (BlazeVOX, 2012)
Canyonesque (BlazeVOX, 2011)
At the Fair (BlazeVox, 2010)
Feeling for the Ground (BlazeVOX, 2010)
Something in the Air (Shearsman Books, 2010)
The New World (Libellum, 2009)
Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2006)
Threnody (effing, 2005)
Night Sky (Deep Forest, 2004)
Zombie Dawn, with Anne Waldman (Skanky Possum, 2003)
Cold Spring: A Diary (Skanky Possum, 2000)
White Thought (Hard Press/The figures, 1997)
Empire of Skin (Black Sparrow Press, 1997)
Like Real People (Black Sparrow Press, 1995)
Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats (Black Sparrow Press, 1994)
Sleepwalker’s Fate: New and Selected Poems 1965–1991 (Black Sparrow Press, 1994)
Fractured Karma (Black Sparrow Press, 1990)
Easter Sunday (Coffee House Press, 1988)
His Supposition (Werkman, 1987)
Apocalyptic Talkshow (Bloody Twin, 1987)
Disordered Ideas (Black Sparrow Press, 1987)
The Border (Coffee House Press, 1985)
Paradise Resisted: Selected Poems 1978–1984 (Black Sparrow Press, 1984)
Under the Fortune Palms (Turkey Press, 1982)
Nine Songs (Turkey Press, 1981)
A Short Guide to the High Plains (Cadmus, 1981)
The End of the Line (Little Caesar, 1980)
When Things Get Tough on Easy Street: Selected Poems 1963­–1978 (Black Sparrow Press, 1978)
The Mutabilitie of the English Lyrick (Poltroon, 1978)
How I Broke In (Tombouctou Books, 1977)
Fan Poems (North Atlantic, 1976)
At Malibu (Kulchur, 1975)
Blue (Black Sparrow Press, 1974)
Smack (Black Sparrow Press, 1972)
John’s Heart (Goliard/Grossman, 1972)
Neil Young (Coach House, 1971)
Green (Black Sparrow Press, 1971)
Air (Harper & Row, 1970)
Chicago, with Lewis Warsh (Angel Hair Books, 1969)
Stones (Harper & Row, 1970)
Bun, with Ron Padgett (Angel Hair Books, 1968)
The Sand Burg (Ferry Press, 1966)
Airplanes (Once Press, 1966)

Tom Clark
Photo credit: Mark Gould

By This Poet


Hazard Response

As in that grey exurban wasteland in Gatsby
When the white sky darkens over the city
Of ashes, far from the once happy valley,
This daze spreads across the blank faces
Of the inhabitants, suddenly deprived
Of the kingdom’s original promised gift.
Did I say kingdom when I meant place
Of worship? Original when I meant
Damaged in handling? Promised when
I meant stolen? Gift when I meant
Trick? Inhabitants when I meant slaves?
Slaves when I meant clowns
Who have wandered into test sites? Test
Sites when I meant contagious hospitals?
Contagious hospitals when I meant clouds
Of laughing gas? Laughing gas
When I meant tears? No, it’s true,
No one should be writing poetry
In times like these, Dear Reader,
I don’t have to tell you of all people why.
It’s as apparent as an attempted
Punch in the eye that actually
Catches only empty air—which is
The inside of your head, where
The green ritual sanction
Of the poem has been cancelled.

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