In my last post I posed the question: how did I discover and engage with Clark Coolidge's poetry in the first place? Every reader will have her own story to tell in this regard; here's my story. As is I suspect the case for most English Majors graduating from U.S. undergraduate programs in the early 1990s--and perhaps still today? more preservers of tradition than innovators, universities and their English departments in particular are notoriously inept at addressing the contemporary--Anglo-American poetry in my formal education ended with Pound and Eliot. (Gertrude Stein I had to discover on my own, though my own avant-garde eanings in the late 1980s also led me to Kerouac, Burroughs and Artaud).
When first encountering the work of a prolific author with a fifty-year career, timing is everything. The end pages of Clark Coolidge's A Book Beginning What And Ending Away, his mammoth prose performance work from the 1970s never before published in its entirety until Fence Books brought it out last year, list 41 other published books of poetry dating back to 1966's Flag Flutter & U.S. Electric, along with a jaw-dropping 29 other unpublished collections.
Where to begin even? In many ways the answer is pre-determined: many readers will start with whatever collections happen to be in print and available at any given time. For Coolidge as with any prolific author, this poses a challenge: with the exception of his early collection Space (Harper & Row 1970), virtually all of Coolidge's books have been published by small presses in print runs of under 1000 copies (often fewer). Save the occasional reprint, once such books (often quickly) go out of print they risk being eclipsed by whatever newer publications emerge.