Foreword to Maxwell Clark's (((...)))

This is my foreword to Maxwell Clark's new book, published by ROOF and available from SPD.

As your sway, so my lyrics,
My lyrics sway of you—who
Afar, is also nearest—
So you cradle me,
So I swoon.

Maxwell Clark is deeply infused with high Romantic poetry but equally with poststructuralist thought. His wild syntax connects him to a line of visionary innovators and Dada tricksters. Working sometimes in the everyday and sometimes “nowhere,” Clark uses form as a conceptual tool to allow perception/interruption to occur in, and as, the poem.

Clark is a “Nude Formalist,” a term I invented decades ago for self-conscious, sometimes conceptual use of traditional tropes and prosody (“poesy” as Clark calls it). “I am a conceptuality,” he writes in a poem in this collection. “Where Is the Loved One’s Face” (a title that alludes to philosopher Emmanuel Levinas) is a perfect example, with its four rhyming lines, one pentameter followed by four tetrameter iambics: “She is not here, in this dreamsy poeming, / But prior, behind its showing, / In a jumbled verve not unknowing, / Herself objectless bestowing.” His neologisms “Dreamsy” and “poeming” suggest both childhood whimsy and queer deforming. There is a poignancy in Clark’s sprung lyricism: a calibrated high silliness but also a sensuous majesty.

Clark’s recurrent use of “pretty” may strike a dyschronic chord for contemporary readers, but it connects his verse with the “poetry of sensibility,” to use Jerome McGann’s terms for 19th-century “sentimental” poetry, mostly written by women, but which also brings to mind John Clare, Hart Crane, Joseph Ceravolo’s Spring in this World of Poor Mutts, and Michael Haslam’s Continual Song. Clark’s work is neither pretty nor sentimental. Quite to the contrary, Clark is often “bleatingly,” disarmingly, frustratingly, “shamelessly” anti-poetic and deflationary (“grinchy-poofles!”), as with his tautologies (“The idiocy it is, so even more idiotic / Than idiocy itself”) and arrays of literalizing yet allusive aphorisms and verbal tangles (“Ornaments Minus Reference”). His method is not to turn mundane things into beautiful language but to use poesy as a means to grip, to grapple with, the quotidian, but also — and this is fundamental — to register its loss: “My poesy is great and high / Because I am most brutal and sunken.”

His poems made of prepositions, adverbs, and pronouns suggest Stein and early Clark Coolidge. Extending some elements from the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E playbook, word stuff obtrudes in his poems as verbal test patterns (a poem made entirely of slash marks or another made of pluses/minuses/brackets), physicalizations of metaphoric possibilities (what Clark called “effluvia” and “whirligiging”), or, then again, Zukofskian studies of sounds as sentiment (as “o__o__oo,” a poem on the “o” in love).

Many of these poems are addressed to, or call out to, you — reader, other, lover; it’s unspecified; but absence is a recurring presence here, often insisting on bathos. “I am weak of your turning away” — “Till my voice is touch.”

Clark’s poetry is not dissociative but reassociative. In “Crazy Quilt,” his ars poetica, Clark writes of “a knotted loop of braided spirals,” evoking for me R. D. Laing’s Knots. “I do with words what I can’t say with them.” “My voice, or my voices?” he asks in another poem. “Are present herein? from when? / Or is someone else writing? / Like myself? then? (else when?)”

Maxwell Owen Clark was born in Tarrytown, New York, on October 29, 1984. His family moved a number of times, from Pittsburgh to Memphis, landing in Fairfield, Connecticut, at the time Clark was in third grade. When he was 13, Clark was hit hard by major depression. Nonetheless, he attended the University of Vermont and then Yale, where he suffered a severe psychotic break. From then on he was not to go a year without a hospitalization for “intensely difficult psychiatric reasons” (as he puts it), including the risk of suicide. His current diagnosis is "Psychosis (Not Otherwise Specified)." Unable to work, he survives, barely, and sometimes homeless, on social security disability benefits. Clark has a blog and an active presence on Facebook. I published two previous collections of his poetry as EPC Digital Editions, Poesies (2014) and +|+ (2016).

Clark is a great admirer of the work of Hannah Weiner. He once told me the one thing he was not happy about with Weiner was her refusal to accept that she was schizophrenic. For Clark, psychiatric disturbances are not something to hide. The facts of one’s everyday life form a foundation for poetry. How such disability informs any poet’s work remains something to explore, just as the work explores the many, sometimes clashing, parts of one’s identity. Clark’s invented language in “The Imperial God of Psychosis” is a challenge and a promise, a “schlizzo” manifesto in this unexpected, inventive, necessary book of poetry.

 Provincetown, July 10, 2017

Maxwell Clark at EPC Digital Library:
Poesies (EPC Digital Editions, 2014). 94pp: pdf 
+/+ (EPC Digital Edition, 2016). 39 pp: pdf
Vows of Poverty (EPC Digital Edition, 2015). 50pp: pdf

Maxwell Clark at PennSound
July 1, 2020 reading: MP3

Blurbs for (((...))):

"Maxwell Owen Clark was a new name for me, and reading this, his first full collection of poetry has occasioned surprise, fascination, admiration. And I have had a sense that something very old and entirely new is happening — simultaneously, as a single happening. That happening is endless, timeless. We read of lyric time as transcendent, but that is not what I want to call attention to here. What I find in (((...))) is a vital, incessant, creative onflowing of poetic language — of poesie, even, though there is nothing quaint about the poetry here gathered. The title is a portal. Through it whatever Clark's attention chances upon turns into poetry and comes swirling to us. Whoever he is, he has poetry as his friend — poetry per se. This is a glorious and glorying book." —Lyn Hejinian 

"Maxwell Clark in (((…))) seizes the idea that poetry is background music and the poet is merely the mode in which it is synthesized. Or to put the matter more plainly, Clark is not the poet but the human version of a vocoder, turned to endless summer in the fishtank 15. Thus, the voice: a category of medial prosthesis. As such, it is subject to larynx transmutation, bit stream indexing, filtering, audio data compression, and re-synthesis of the human voice signal. What is the sound of (((…))) but an echo in roll off. Or in other words, ecstasy." –Tan Lin