Clark, Tom 1941- (Thomas Willard Clark)

views updated

Clark, Tom 1941- (Thomas Willard Clark)


Born March 1, 1941, in Chicago, IL; son of Arthur Willard (an artist) and Rita Mary Clark; married Angelica Louise Heinegg, March 22, 1968; children: Juliet. Education: Attended John Carroll University, 1959-60; University of Michigan, B.A., 1963; Cambridge University, M.A., 1965; graduate study at University of Essex, 1965-67.


Home—Berkeley, CA. Office—1740 Marin Ave., Berkeley, CA, 94707.


Poet and writer. Poetry editor, Paris Review, 1963-73; instructor in American poetry, University of Essex, 1966-67; senior writer, Boulder Monthly, 1978-79; instructor in poetics, New College of California, 1987—.


Hopwood Prize, University of Michigan, 1963; Fulbright fellowship, 1963-65; Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, 1966; Rockefeller fellowship, 1967-68; Poets Foundation Award, 1967; George Dillon Memorial Prize from Poetry, 1968; Guggenheim fellowship, 1970-71; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1985.



Airplanes, Once Press (Brightlingsea, Essex, England), 1966.

The Sand Burg: Poems, Ferry Press (London, England), 1966.

(With Ron Padgett) Bun, Angel Hair Books (New York, NY), 1968.

(With Lewis Warsh) Chicago, Angel Hair Books, 1969.

Stones, Harper (New York, NY), 1969.

Air, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.

Green, Black Sparrow Press (Los Angeles, CA), 1971.

Neil Young, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971.

The No Book, Ant's Forefoot (Wivenhoe Park, Essex, England), 1971.

John's Heart, Grossman (New York, NY), Cape Goliard Press (London, England), 1972.

(With Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan) Back in Boston Again, Telegraph Books (Philadelphia, PA), 1972.

Smack, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1972.

Suite, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1974.

Blue, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1974.

At Malibu, Kulchur (New York, NY), 1975.

Baseball, Figures (Berkeley, CA), 1976.

Fan Poems, North Atlantic (Plainfield, VT), 1976.

35, Poltroon Press (Berkeley, CA), 1978.

How I Broke In/Six Modern Masters, Tombouctou Books (Bolinas, CA), 1978.

When Things Get Tough on Easy Street: Selected Poems, 1963-1978, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1978.

The Mutabilitie of the English Lyrick (parodies), Poltroon Press (Berkeley, CA), 1979.

The End of the Line, Little Caesar Press, 1980.

Nine Songs, Turkey Press (Isla Vista, CA), 1981.

A Short Guide to the High Plains, Cadmus (Santa Barbara, CA), 1981.

Heartbreak Hotel, Toothpaste Press (West Branch, IA), 1981.

Journey to the Ulterior, Am Here/Immediate (Santa Barbara, CA), 1981.

The Rodent Who Came to Dinner, Am Here/Immediate (Santa Barbara, CA), 1981.

Under the Fortune Palms, Turkey Press, 1982.

Dark as Day, Smithereens Press (Bolinas, CA), 1983.

After Dante, Handmade (Santa Barbara, CA), 1984.

How It Goes, Handmade (Santa Barbara, CA), 1984.

Technology, Handmade (Santa Barbara, CA), 1984.

Paradise Resisted: Selected Poems, 1978-1984, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1984.

Property, Illuminati Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1984.

The Border, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1984.

Easter Sunday, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.

Disordered Ideas, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1987.

Fractured Karma, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1990.

Sleepwalker's Fate: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1991, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1992.

Junkets on a Sad Planet: Scenes from the Life of John Keats, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1994.

Like Real People, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1995.

Empire of Skin, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1997.

White Thought, Hard Press/The Figures, 1997.

Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems, introduction by Amy Gerstler, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.


(With Mark Fidrych) No Big Deal, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1977.

The World of Damon Runyon, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

Jack Kerouac: A Biography, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1984; with an introduction by Carolyn Cassady, Marlowe & Co. (New York, NY), 1998.

Late Returns: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan, Tombouctou, 1985.

Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.

Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place: Together with the Poet's Own Autobiography, New Directions (New York, NY), 1993.

(Preface by Edward Dorn) Empire of Skin, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1997.

(With Terry Leach) Things Happen for a Reason: The True Story of an Itinerant Life in Baseball, Frog, Ltd. (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Edward Dorn: A World of Difference, North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA), 2002.


Champagne and Baloney: The Rise and Fall of Finley's A's, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.

One Last Round for the Shuffler: A Blacklisted Ball-player's Story, Truck Books (St. Paul, MN), 1979.

The Great Naropa Poetry Wars, Cadmus, 1980.

Kerouac's Last Word: Jack Kerouac in Escapade, Water Row Press (Sudbury, MA), 1987.

The Poetry Beat: Reviewing the Eighties, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1990.


A Conversation with Hitler (stories), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1978.

Who Is Sylvia? (novel), Blue Wind Press (Eugene, OR), 1979.

The Last Gas Station and Other Stories, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1980.

The Master (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1984.

The Exile of Celine (novelized biography), Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

The Spell: A Romance, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2000.


The Emperor of the Animals (three act play; first produced in London, 1966, Goliard Press (London, England), 1967.

Contributor of book reviews to the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Manuscript collections: University of Connecticut, Storrs, University of Kansas, Lawrence, and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.


Tom Clark has combined the diverse roles of poet, biographer, novelist, dramatist, reviewer, and sportswriter during his writing career. In addition to dozens of books of poetry, a play, three novels, two story collections, and numerous biographies of literary figures, Clark's works include a book cowritten with star baseball pitcher Mark Fidrych, poems about such sports legends as Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Bert Campaneris, and a history of the Oakland A's baseball team. As Steven Young noted in Contemporary Poets, "Clark is a fan; he doesn't write about baseball, he celebrates it." Speaking to CA, Clark easily finessed the apparent gap between his interests in poetry and sports: "I think they have a natural relationship. The best poems and the best baseball games share a dramatic tension you can't find in very many other places." In his essay for the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Clark tells how his "religious involvement" in baseball developed at an early age, fostered initially by his father, who took him to his first big-league games at Comiskey Park on Chicago's South Side. He describes "suddenly emerging through a tunnel into the radiantly illuminated, enchanted emerald green space," and goes on to state: "Perhaps religion is the wrong term, though. Part hobby, part escape hatch from endarkened household, for me baseball opened up a secret door in the wall to numinous worlds religion promised but never delivered."

Clark's interest in poetry blossomed at the University of Michigan, where he lists his early influences as Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, and Boris Pasternak. However, the contemporary academic poets he met at that time failed to impress him, later causing him to reject the chance to become "a university poet … thus irrevocably exiting, with a headstrong lack of foresight surely to be regretted, the moving staircase of academic poetry-careering," he once remarked. Taking an advanced degree at Cambridge, Clark became strongly influenced by the work of Ezra Pound. While in England, he hitchhiked around the country with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and gave readings and associated with other writers such as Robert Graves, Gregory Corso, Andrei Voznesensky, and Adrian Mitchell. For ten years, starting in 1963, after being recommended to publisher George Plimpton by his former teacher, poet Donald Hall, Clark served as poetry editor of the prestigious Paris Review.

Though he is known for his poems about sports, Clark writes poems in a wide range of styles and on many subjects. He has written parodies of traditional poetry in The Mutabilitie of the English Lyrick, poems of tribute to such figures as Lenny Bruce, and political poems. Many of Clark's poems are concerned with the state of contemporary America. In The End of the Line, for example, Clark presents an "affecting, anguished vision of a collapsing America," as Amy Gerstler wrote in Poetry News. "A writer known and loved for his enthusiasm, curiosity, purity and scope of imagination, and an amazing ability to blend humor and cosmic concerns, Clark has turned the considerable force of his gifts to produce a despairing book, concerned with the fate of his country." In Paradise Resisted: Selected Poems, 1978-1984, Clark examines the American West, offering "a wide-ranging body of work examining ‘the West’—a state of mind, unique geographical terrains, qualities of light, restless, boundless dreams," according to Don Skiles in the San Francisco Chronicle. Skiles found the collection to be "a tough, beautiful book—a rare combination…. This is the real West of our time, as significant as John Ford's cinematic legends."

Clark's collection Sleepwalker's Fate: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1991 offers a significant sampling of his poetic work over several decades. Reviewing the book for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joel Lewis explained that "Clark has been one of American poetry's most consistent and constant chroniclers of our long sleepwalk to parts unknown…. What we have … in the Sleepwalker's Fate is poetry's first successful X-ray of [the] American psyche as it swims through the '90s." Writing in Small Press, Peggy Shumaker found the collection to be "complex, alive in every line, tender, unbearable, and necessary. Clark embraces in one book twenty-five years of poems, plus baseball, classicism, jazz, physics, trout kills, popular culture, ‘the smashed weirdness of the raving cadenzas of God,’ and ‘infinite gifts we are unable to discern.’"

Young saw definite changes both in the form and subject of the author's poems from the 1960s to the 1990s. According to Young, in Clark's early work "chaos can sometimes reign." He faults Clark's "fondness for quirky modifiers" (for example "secretive tambourine") and remarks that "thin, or nonexistent, punctuation often creates syntactical confusions." Young contended that by the 1970s Clark's poems became more unified: "This work seems clearer, cleaner, though with the same drive and energy … the range of subjects widens here, the introspection of the earlier work giving way to concern with things and people in the world." Though critical of Clark's minimalist poems of this period, Young felt that his longer works produce "exciting poetry." He singled out the poem "Chicago," which describes Clark's experience working as an usher at various baseball stadiums, as successfully evoking the entire era of the 1950s. In Clark's later work, Young was partial to his poems about other writers and artists, such as Ungaretti, Kafka, and Lenny Bruce. He described Clark as "a world-class spectator, his work a grand record of his looking on."

Released in 2006, Clark's collection, Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems, reflects the arc of his career, including lighter, more optimistic early works as well as the darker, moodier poetry from later in his career. As always, the poems touch on the themes that Clark focuses on best: baseball, friendship, lovers, cities and landscapes, and inclement weather. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked: "Disarmingly casual yet saturated with loss, Clark's body of work revels in simplicities."

In prose, Clark has made a mark as a (sometimes semi-fictional) biographer of pop musician Neil Young, and of such literary figures as Damon Runyon, Jack Kerouac, Ted Berrigan, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Charles Olson, Edward Dorn, and Robert Creeley. Clark's biography of Jack Kerouac draws on previous studies and personal accounts to give an overview of the Beat novelist's career. Clark focuses in particular on how Kerouac used the details of his life to create memorable fiction. The biography, John Montgomery noted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "is readable, condensed and documented with extensive footnotes…. This book is an antidote and a model for academics who usually aren't able to cope with a writer like Kerouac." K.N. Richwine of Choice found that Jack Kerouac "is written with the grace, clarity, and density of detail of one of the better New Yorker profiles."

In tackling the life of poet Charles Olson, Clark again provides a study of the relationship between a writer and his work. His Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life is, according to Bruce Campbell in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, "clear, compelling, and makes Olson's life more coherent than it has ever been."

With the biographical novel The Exile of Celine, Clark explores territory some reviewers found unnecessary. The story of French novelist Louis Ferdinand Celine's flight to Denmark after World War II, The Exile of Celine covers a story already told by Celine himself in a trilogy of novels written in the 1950s. "If," wrote Francois Sauzey in the New York Times Book Review, "you have read Celine's own chronicle of the period, … why, you may ask in disbelief, would anyone even try to re-evoke novelistically Celine's hectic landscape?" Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing in the New York Times admitted: "One finds it hard to tell what Mr. Clark is up to in his novel." But Charles Monaghan in the Washington Post found much value in the novel. "The novel form," Monaghan argued, "permits Clark to make the most of the story line, to pick and choose his material as a biographer could not…. He has recreated the best moments of Celine's books and done it in a clean, sweet prose that displays a poet's concern for conciseness."

Things Happen for a Reason: The True Story of an Itinerant Life in Baseball is another example of Clark combining his love of baseball with his talent for writing biographical accounts. In this book, Clark teams with pitcher Terry Leach to recount Leach's experiences playing for the New York Mets and the Minnesota Twins during the 1980s and 1990s, and his struggle to keep playing each year as an athlete who was never destined to be a star player, but who maintained his love of playing over any desire for monetary reward. Booklist contributor Wes Lukowsky remarked: "What dominates this book is Leach's love for the game, its camaraderie."

In Edward Dorn: A World of Difference, Clark offers readers a look at the life and career of his friend Edward Dorn, a fellow poet and a student of Charles Olson. Dorn is best known for his poem, "Gunslinger," and as a member of the Black Mountain School of poetry. Clark accessed Dorn' papers, letters from friends and family, and his body of work, both published and not, to create a well-rounded image of the man, and ends with a painful accounting of Dorn's death from cancer. William Gargan, writing for Library Journal, called Clark "an astute critic," adding that "his analysis of Dorn's poetry helps the reader understand both man and artist." Lisa Jarnot, in a contribution for Chicago Review, wrote that "the real success of this book … comes in Clark's ability to integrate Dorn's work and the particulars of his early life into a series of vignettes that explore and illuminate Dorn's intelligence."



Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 22, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, May 15, 2000, Wes Lukowsky, review of Things Happen for a Reason: The True Story of an Itinerant Life in Baseball, p. 1720.

Chicago Review, summer, 2004, Lisa Jarnot, review of Edward Dorn: A World of Difference, p. 366.

Choice, November, 1984, K.N. Richwine, review of Jack Kerouac: A Biography, p. 422.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) August 18, 1984, John Montgomery, review of Jack Kerouac.

Library Journal, May 15, 2002, William Gargan, review of Edward Dorn, p. 96.

New York Times, January 22, 1987, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Exile of Celine, p. 21.

New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1987, Francois Sauzey, review of The Exile of Celine, p. 28.

Poetry News, March, 1981, Amy Gerstler, review of The End of the Line.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2006, review of Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems, p. 42.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1991, Bruce Campbell, review of Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life, p. 296.

San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 1984, Don Skiles, review of Paradise Resisted: Selected Poems, 1978-1984; July 12, 1992, Joel Lewis, review of Sleepwalker's Fate.

Small Press, winter, 1993, Peggy Shumaker, review of Sleepwalker's Fate.

Washington Post, March 9, 1987, Charles Monaghan, review of The Exile of Celine.

About this article

Clark, Tom 1941- (Thomas Willard Clark)

Updated About content Print Article