from `Completing the Picture: exiles, outsiders and independents', William Oxley (Editor), 1995, Stride

Douglas Clark

b. 1942 in Darlington, County Durham of Scots parents. Studied mathematics at Glasgow University and Edinburgh. One of those Scots whom, in earlier times, the English Imperial Adventure would have carried farther afield than Bath, where he has lived for the past twenty years or more, having `found contentment in the magical world of computers'. A true eccentric, he burst upon the world in the 1980s entirely unnoticed, with `five' substantial self-published volumes of poetry. Well, not entirely unnoticed, for `Stand' described Clark as `an amateur in the best sense'. Just as the Goths came from nowhere and civilised Europe in their shadowy, mysterious way (and just as the Men of Arthur have always remained shadowy), so there is something both mildly modern gothic about the emergence of Clark's poems and their style: a `processional headed by a black-robed cowl' --- and something mythopoeic, too. But as the procession has proceeded, Clark has more and more made his voice heard, and shown his wide range of concern, from the delightful homely `Fritz Cat' poems, to his deeper historical preoccupations as in the marvellously panoramic poem called `The Mong' about the Mongol conquests of Asia. At their best his more personal poems, no matter their ostensible subject, afford us a glimpse of a retiring bachelor figure living out his life quietly in Bath, obsessed by mathematics, myth and the Muses; and, as `Stand' also said, `determined to play the game his own way' --- which, of course, is no recipe for being noticed. It would be wrong, however, not to point out that self-publication is not only the easiest way into print, it is also the safest way --- as a general rule --- to `avoid' critical attention.

YOUNG BROCK

I have seen foxes parade down the centre of our streets
Under the sodium lamps,
I have seen and heard hedgehogs scuttle up the path
Outside my house;
But never, until last night, have I been face to face
With mystery.

For sixteen years I have walked home across the green
On returning from the pub,
All I have ever seen on the way have been boisterous dogs
Watched over by nervous owners.
Last night was the different night,
I heard a noise and stopped and stared.

Young Brock was ten yards away,
His white streaks showing on his head.
The night was silence and there were no stars.
We stared at each other for a full minute,
The magician and the badger,
The wisest beings in the world.

Then like a hare he was off down the hill,
So close to the ground.
I hope he has come to keep me company,
It is lonely in solitude with Fritz Cat.
After sixteen years the badgers are come
And I have communion with Lords of Nature.

SEVENTEEN

There was only one way out
Of the hell-hole of fourteen.
That was by being top of the class.
I kept my ambition to myself.
Never revealing it at home.
And I made it.
Then at seventeen I met Cornelius.
He was so much more brilliant than I
That there was no competition.
He was waiting to go to Cambridge.
I competed for a while
But then had to throw in the towel;
Skulk off to Glasgow feeling inferior.
At Glasgow I was top again.
But I had learnt that there are people
In this world whose ability transcends belief.
And I was not of the elect.

TWENTY, THIRTY, FORTY

Twenty four was clean white sheets and Jo,
That was when it came together and fell apart.
When everything was great and natural
But I had someone to meet.

Thirty four was saying goodbye.
The last glimpse of a lost face
Through the shadows of a window.
That was the beginning of a new Hell.

Forty four was Torremolinos and Granada,
The writing pouring out of the heart.
I had no-one to meet
And I had woken out of a ten-year trance.

Love's imagination has been my ruin.
I chased after all the rainbows
And found nothing but disillusion.
There is always an empty space to be filled.

Back to the agony of fourteen
Without the magnificent immortal dreams.
I never expected anything from life.
I won't be disappointed.

from LOVE SONNETS

Envy the boy with his girl in the park
So young self assured arrogant intact
He floats in a dream secure that she's there
One twitch of her eye he's walking on air
Look after him girl say all the right lines
Dazzle and dazzle but remember he's blind
Stand straight there before him look in his eye
Give him your picture then you'll live till he dies
Be gentle be kind don't force his young sex
He'll come in good time it's his head that's erect
Tell stories tell magic Oh warm his struck heart
You're so far beyond him but teach him in jest
There's jokes writ in Heaven he'll never regret

PLANTS

I will never stop writing about Coatham Mundeville.
I design the books that will last forever,
And put Susan at the centre.
No woman would want to marry me
As long as she is on the planet.
The only certain thing about Susan is that she will behave badly,
Like a creature out of Jane Austen.
It is rough without you, Susie.
I do the best I can.
Long may you run.

I will never stop writing about Coatham Mundeville.
Yesterday I started work on my garden for this year.
I dug out the twenty-year-old roses,
Ruining my back and gloveless hands.
Today I bought replacement plants and installed them:
White, yellow, pink and red.
Tomorrow I must buy seeds of alyssum, pansies.
I haven't been involved with my garden for fifteen years.
But now in my retirement
It is time to be creative.

I will never stop writing about Coatham Mundeville.
It is better to love than to be loved.
Tell the truth but tell it slant.
I have planted cuttings of my lamb's ear, snow-in-summer,
I hope it was not too cold last night,
It is a time for fertility.
I went out in the morning air
For it was that time of year,
I looked out over my green domain
And said: Death hath no fear.



Douglas Clark/ Anthology extract/ Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath BA2 1HD, UK/ d.g.d.clark@dgdclynx.plus.com