Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thomas A. Clark’s The Hundred Thousand Places

A Door

Regarding the Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark’s The Hundred Thousand Places (Carcanet, 2009)—note the profound echo in the title of the Taoist sense of all the perceivable objects in the world, “the named”—“the ten thousand things.” Here: a leisurely accounting of place manifesting itself, ingrain’d, half-human. Or man (a man) becoming half-landscape in easy (and easing) merger. Clark:
you are not sure

there where you hover
over yourself
stay there

A book of stripped down pieces, unmark’d, untitled. In (possibly) four sections: sequences demarcated solely by an intervening blank page. One result: uncertainty regarding the unit (and limits) of the “field of composition”—line, stanza, page, section, book. How encompass (ring or girdle) a landscape? Like language, its stream, it is impossible to delineate the boundaries of place: unmoor’d, changeable, abrupt. Clark:
as if you were implicated
the lifting of the mist
from the water

the grey wake of a boat
unmoored at dawn
as you go forward
you are drawn

green forms
rise up
in front of you

pouring into the visible
as if from some
invisible source

The loafing (Whitman is sight’d, too: “taking your ease / against the slope”) and spare-countenanced diminuendo to purely perceivable essences, a paring down of the clap-trap of ego and industry: process of a life. The difficulty of an impartial simplicity. (Partial simplicity is rampant: its leavings-out, the way it’s ripped out of the continuum make it appear manner’d, a world throttled into reticence.) Clark:
it has taken half a lifetime
to learn to sit in the sun
among primroses and violets
beside a dried adder skin
your back to a broken wall
Rhythmically echoing Dr. Williams. And:
the blue butterfly’s
moment on the purple
thistle flower
is indolent

idly its hoarded
blue is unfolded
onto difference
then folded again

How Clark’s sonic riffs make bigger unfoldings, glimpses of unstoppable associational :
stretching inland
blackland and moorland
grassland and acid heath
a dark country
of heather and moor grass
of deer grass and moss

around the ruined
sheep folds and shielings
green islands
of sweet vernal grass
bent grass and fescue
rescue wilderness
Shieling, a roughly-construct’d hut at a place of pasturage: “In scheilling, tyit fast in tedderis.” A world pursued (captur’d) by sounding connects. (How different is, say, Coleridge’s looking, its veering off. Out of the Notebooks, randomly, “A Light Breeze upon the smooth of the River & the Shadows of the Tree turn into two-edged Cherubs’ Swords.”) Clark’s skint metaphoricking:
a breeze
of small birds
moving through
birch leaves
An impeccably-stack’d Russian doll of noises: breeze / leaves, bird / birch, moving / through.


Some pieces simply cataloging flora (“the lovely particulars / brighter than their names”) or (more rarely) fauna (heard but not seen / the corncrake in the grasses . . . seeking the shelter / of complexity and fragrance”):
a hanging valley
of ash, wych elm, hazel
willow, birch, oak

dense cover of beech
light shade of ash

wintergreen, ramsoms
sweet woodruff
guelder rose

hair moss, bracken
fork moss, oak fern
reindeer moss
Even there: sonic braiding, pinch and release: “fork moss, oak fern.” Ransoms a style of wild garlic. Is wych elm related to the American hop hornbeam?


In answer:
a common idiom
carries through
complex articulations
call it a place

it was not your
intention to bring
all your resources
here but you do
To paraphrase (the American) Tom Clark’s unforgettable little poem “I was born with this body / So I use it” (insert “language” for “body”)—or is it Ammons’s titular “If Anything Will Level with You Water Will”—“If anything’ll knock you down, language will.”


Two perfectly Scottish (undaunting stoniness) notes regarding color:
the first

the gorse flower
nourished on rock
in a salt wind
And (color’s soundings, how a kind of impeding causes melody / colour’s squeezing out):
the rock in the water
breaking the full
weight of the flow
produces melody

the rock by the water
broken by bracken
tormentil and heather
releases colour
Next page: “from rock / heather / from astringency / colour.”

Thomas A. Clark

Laurie Clark, Detail of “One Thousand Blue Places”