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.