Weekend Gloss: Homage to Douglas Clark

The late Douglas Clark was a poet who lived in Bath. Of himself he said “my health, both mental and physical, has never been good and my life has been troubled”. In the best of his poetry, the terrors of acute mental breakdown are described without sensationalism, along with the sadness, inertia and disorientation of life in its aftermath. Lyric poetry typically projects an ego under stress, reinforcing itself through the willed exacerbation of its circumstances. If I can magnify the forces that assail me, then in some sense I can also command them. Douglas Clark’s is not a poetry of command in this sense. His voice can sometimes seem very small, unassuming; his verse flat in affect, matter-of-fact in subject matter. “The antiquated engines of love trundle out,” he writes, “I have forgotten how to write poetry”. In spite of this his poems about cats and kittens were widely enjoyed, which might have bemused this poet whose early models included Ezra Pound and Basil Bunting.

As far as this “homage” is concerned, all of the necessary context can be found by browsing the poems collected on Clark’s still-extant homepage. It may seem odd to dedicate a “homage” of all things to such a “minor” figure, but I admire him for his fifty years (by his own reckoning) of living “a peculiar life, like Spinoza but without his intellect”, for his frankness about the causes and courses of his own failure to thrive, and for the gentleness and openness of his attention to other living creatures.