Nationality: American. Born: Providence, Rhode Island, 26 February 1939. Education: Brown University, Providence, 1956–58. Family: Married Susan Hopkins in 1967; one daughter. Career: Editor, Joglars magazine, Providence, 1964–66; producer of weekly radio program of new poetry, KPFA-FM, Berkeley, California, 1969–70. Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1966; New York Poets Foundation award, 1968. Address: c/o The Figures, 5 Castle Hill, Great Barrington, Massachusetts 01230, U.S.A.
Flag Flutter and U.S. Electric. New York, Lines, 1966.
(Poems). New York, Lines, 1967.
Ing. New York, Angel Hair, 1969.
Space. New York, Harper, 1970.
The So. New York, Boke, 1971.
Moroccan Variations. Bolinas, California, Big Sky, 1971.
Suite V. New York, Boke, 1973.
The Maintains. San Francisco, This Press, 1974.
Polaroid. New York, Boke, 1975.
Quartz Hearts. San Francisco, This Press, 1978.
Own Face. Lenox, Massachusetts, Angel Hair, 1978.
Smithsonian Depositions, and Subject to a Film. New York, Vehicle, 1980.
American Ones. Bolinas, California, Tombouctou, 1981.
A Geology. Needham. Massachusetts, Potes and Poets Press, 1981.
Research. Berkeley, California, Tuumba Press, 1982.
Mine: The One That Enters the Stories. Berkeley, California, Figures, 1982.
Solution Passage: Poems, 1978–1981. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1986.
The Crystal Text. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Figures, 1986.
Mesh. Detroit, Michigan, In Camera, 1988.
At Egypt. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, The Figures, 1988.
Sound as Thought: Poems 1982–1984. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1990.
The Book of During. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 1991.
Odes of Roba. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 1991.
Baffling Means. Stockbridge, Massachusetts, O-blek Editions, 1991.
On the Slates. New York, Flockophobic Press, 1992.
Lowell Connector: Lines & Shots from Kerouac's Town. West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Hard Press, 1993.
Own Face. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1993.
Registers: (People in All). Bolinas, California, Avenue B, 1994.
The ROVA Improvisations. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Press, 1994.
Keys to the Caverns. Canary Islands, Zasterle Press, 1995.
Book of Stirs. Los Angeles, Seeing Eye Books, 1998.
To Obtain the Value of the Cake Measure from Zero, with Tom Veitch. San Francisco, Paints Press, 1970.
Now It's Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & the Sounds. Albuquerque, New Mexico, Living Batch Press, 1999.
Editor, Heart of the Breath: Poems, 1979–1992, by Jim Brodey. West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Hard Press, 1996.*
Bibliography: "Clark Coolidge: A Selected Bibliography" by Edward Foster, in Talisman, 3, fall 1989.
Critical Studies: Clark Coolidge issue of Big Sky 3 (Bolinas, California), 1972; interview in This 4 (San Francisco), spring 1973; The End of Intelligent Writing by Richard Kostelanetz, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1974; "A Symposium on Clark Coolidge," in Stations 5 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), winter 1978; "Notes on Coolidge, Objectives, Zukofsky, Romanticism, and &" by Robert Grenier, in In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman, Orono, Maine, National Poetry Foundation, 1986; "Clark Coolidge" by Lee Bartlett, in his Talking Poetry: Conversations in the Workshop with Contemporary Poets, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1987; Clark Coolidge issue of Talisman, 3, fall 1989; "'All the Movement Still My Own': Clark Coolidge's Mesh" by Bruce Campbell, and "Word for Sign: Poetic Language in Coolidge's 'The Crystal Text'" by Krzysztof Ziarek, both in Sagetrieb (Orono, Maine), 10(1–2), spring-fall 1991; by William Corbett, in Arts, 65(10), summer 1991; "Clark Coolidge and a Jazz Aesthetic" by Aldon L. Nielsen, in Pacific Coast Philology (Malibu, California), 28(1), September 1993; "Teaching American Poetry in Context: Emerson and the Non-American Reader" by Edwrad Halsey Foster, in American Literature for Non-American Readers: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on American Literature, edited by Meta Grosman, Frankfurt, Peter Lang, 1995.
Clark Coolidge comments:
The context of my works is the tonality of language (seen, heard, spoken, thought) itself, a tonality that centers itself in the constant flowage from meaning to meaning and that sideslippage between meanings. All the books we shall perhaps never read again form a constant background of reference points. We are free now to delight in the surface of language, a surface as deep as the distance between, for instance, a noun (in the mind or in a dictionary) and its object somewhere in the universe.* * *
None of the experimental poets in America has been as various, intelligent, and prolific as Clark Coolidge, who also edited one of the few genuinely avant-garde literary magazines of the 1960s, Joglars. His opening book, Flag Flutter and U.S. Electric, collected his early forays into post-Ashberyan acoherence, in which the poet tries to realize a semblance of literary coherence without resorting to such traditional organizing devices as meter, metaphor, exposition, symbolism, consistent allusion, declarative statements, or autobiographical reference. (The key Ashbery work in this vein is his 1960 poem "Europe," collected in The Tennis Court Oath.) In a theoretical statement contributed to Paul Carroll's anthology The Young American Poets (1968), Coolidge wrote that "words have a universe of qualities other than those of descriptive relation: Hardness, Density, Sound-Shape, Vector-Force, & Degrees of Transparency/Opacity," and his earlier poems reveal rather exceptional linguistic sensitivities, especially regarding the selection and placement of words. The intelligence informing his creative processes is radically poetic, precisely because it is not prosaic.
In subsequent work Coolidge pursued not just varieties of acoherence but also reductionism, joining Kenneth Gangemi and Robert Lax among America's superior minimal poets. In the back sections of Coolidge's retrospective Space are several especially severe examples, such as the untitled poem beginning "by a I," which contains individually isolated words, none more than two letters long, that are scattered across the space of a single page (Coolidge's primary compositional unit). These words are nonetheless related to one another, not only in terms of diction and corresponding length (both visually and verbally) but also by spatial proximity, and if the individual words were arranged in another way, both the poem and the reading experience would be different. It should also be noted that Coolidge's work extends radically the Olsonian traditions both of "composition by field," as opposed to lines, and of emphasizing syllable rather than rhyme and meter.
Like all genuinely experimental artists, Coolidge accepted the challenge of an inevitable next step, extending his delicate reductionist technique into two of the most remarkable long poems of the 1960s: "AD," originally published in Ing and then reprinted in Space, and Suite V, which appeared as a booklet in 1973, although it was initially composed several years before. "AD" begins in the familiar Coolidgean way, with stanzas of superficially unrelated lines, but the poetic material is progressively reduced over twenty pages (thereby recapitulating Coolidge's own poetic development in a kind of formalist autobiography) until the poem's final pages contain only vertically ordered fragments of words. Suite V is yet more outrageously spartan, containing nothing more than pairs of three-letter words in their plural forms, with one four-letter word at the top and the other at the bottom of otherwise blank pages.
Whereas Coolidge once seemed the avatar of what came to be called language poetry, his presence has by now receded. His work does not receive as much critical attention as does that of Charles Bernstein or even Ron Silliman, to cite two younger writers who learned from Coolidge's innovations without significantly surpassing them. Nonetheless, Coolidge has continued to publish prolifically, all of his later books appearing from smaller presses (one measure of his integrity). In my judgment none of the later work is quite as avantgarde or as consequential as his opening moves. One of the thicker collections, Solution Passage: Poems, 1978–1981 (1986), contains what seem to be riffs upon Noam Chomsky's "colorless green ideas sleep furiously," which is to say, phrases that are syntactically acceptable without making semantic sense.