Troubador (1985)

Chapman 52 Spring 1988 --- Howard Purdie:

The poems in Douglas Clark's `Troubador' don't sing for me, but that is probably because they're not my style. The early ones tend to be despairing and go on and on: `Oh love love lost unattainable/ And have I nothing to say to you/ Oh agony Nothing agony Nothing Nothing...' The later poems are more appealling, and there are one or two sharp comments as in `Library.' But one gets the impression from this selection of an exiled Scot's poetry-production of seventeen years that he has never had the time to work at his craft.

Envoi 91 Summer 1988 --- Michael Bennett:

A professional production. For me the best poem is the title poem at the end of the book. Poetic competence, but he is at his best telling a tale, fleshing out the fruit as it were --- `Camelot', being one example. Some of the shorter poems could have been omitted. The tales can be re-read with pleasure.

Horsemen (1988)

Chapman 55-6 Spring 1989 --- Gillean Somerville:

The first part of Douglas Clark's collection comprises bitter poems coming to terms with the death of a relationship. He imagines himself as Merlin or Orpheus, the cuckold King Arthur and Hannibal with no second chance: `I never dreamt I would live so long...'; `All I am is hate'; `There is no such thing as happiness. It is an illusion/ Wander through the greenwood and be at one with Nature/ For the hunt for love has come to an untimely end.' With lesser skill such self-pity could be tedious, but Clark understands his condition and bravely faces up to it. His anger cuts authentically. His cat poems, facets of Fritz, are nice and elegantly controlled, but lack resonance and consequently memorability. His final narrative poem based on a history of the Mongols attempts a Tamburlaine in miniature, perhaps a more potent form of masculine consolation than chronicling the whims of Fritz the Cat.

Envoi 93 Spring 1989 --- Marguerite Wood:

The poems move through four sections of which the third is irresistible to cat lovers. Here his love of cats supercedes his mathematician's precise mind. They have a spontaneity and rhythm to match the subject. In the other sections the poems range from grief at the end of a relationship, bitterness expressed through the `Merlin in Winter' poems, to, in section four, a saga, `The Mong'. The broken rhythm of this long poem gives a dramatic expression of invading hordes of horsemen, yet the strong, almost note form, with its lists of names keeps the poem on the surface. Without any knowledge of the historical events it is difficult to become involved; linking passages could help.

Inkshed 13 Spring 1989 --- Bernard Young:

According to the blurb the first two sections of this book deal with a relationship. Not that it's very clear from the poems themselves. What, for example, has the following to do with `the reaction and aftermath' at the end of the relationship: `You ask about Arthur/ He was a horseman/ He learnt from Alexander: The Companions/ As Alexander learnt from Achilles/ All written plain in Homer.'

The fourth section is a long narrative poem ( clearly a lot of work must have gone into organizing the information in it) based on the history of the mongols. Sounds ambitious, unusual and laudable but it's a dense sequence of obscure ( unless you're well up on the history of the Mongols presumably) references.

The third section ( saving, I'd hoped, the best till last) is the `Cat Poems' which were `written for children with adults in mind.' In their favour, they are comprehensible but I honestly don't see them appealling to any age group and certainly not to kids; they're not lively or funny enough e.g. `I am back from the shopping/ Laden with bananas and clunking cans/ To be greeted by scurry little feet.' Scurry little feet!

Returning to the glossy cover ( the paper and printing are of the highest quality) I see that `At heart Horsemen is a book of the cleansing of the spirit.' Such loose talk makes me think, possibly unfairly, of the Fawlty Towers episode which featured a joke with this punch-line: `Pretentious? Who moi!'

Iron 58 June-September 1989 --- S.J.Litherland:

The antics of Fritz the Cat, who has a whole section to himself, might appeal to cat lovers. I found them over-indulgent. My difficulty with the rest of the poems is the didactic certainty of their voice. They state things in a strong tone, and after a time it is wearing. I feel I am being hammered into the ground by someone who is convinced he is right. There is a Nietzschean grandeur in the best of his work, but there are too many horsemen and lines like

There is a strident truth in the joys of adolescence

(`Deathsong')

If you are feeling in Germanic mood, or wish that Whitman had been sterner, then these might appeal also.

TOPS 81 Winter 1989 --- Leonard Blackstone:

In a sense this is one poem, built up from many smaller ones, in four sections: `from the Columbus Poems', `Merlin in Winter', `Cat Poems', `The Mong'. Definitely poet's poetry, cerebral and demanding. The tone, however, is conversational, the syntax modern. Echoes of Pound without the Latin puns, read especially `Arthur.'

Stand 31 2 Spring 1990 --- Fred Beake:

Douglas Clark's Horsemen is the work of someone who seems to be an amateur in the best sense --- that is, he is quite determined to play the game his own way. As a result there is wild inconsistency but he is fresh and alive and himself, and the promise is considerable. And whatever the shortcomings there is the genuine fun of the `Cat Poems':

Fritz Cat is a fourth rate cat.
Firstly he is not a dog.
Dogs are such affectionate creatures.

(`Fourth Rate Cat')

and a deeply felt sadness:

All I am is hate
As I sit in my cave
Staring at shadows on the wall;
Sharp-barbed hate

(`Merlin in Winter')

Coatham (1989)

Envoi 94 Summer 1989 --- Marguerite Wood:

This is the last book of poems in the `Horseman Trilogy'. The preceding ones, `Troubador' and `Horsemen' were reviewed in Envoi as they appeared, and between them they cover twenty years in the poet's life. The Coatham poems give us vignettes of his childhood, his growing awareness of others' existence, and the finding of his own identity. The poems wander in thought patterns from present to past to present with sharp flashes of humour --- `The future isn't what it's cracked up to be/ The past is a ruin/ Nothing for it but to write a poem:' (Twerton) --- and some neat last lines. Poetry, like music, benefits from a mathematician's mind, and he is a mathematician working in Computer Services at Bath University. The collection is a cohesive whole of light and dark. Well worth reading. Coatham completes the trilogy most satisfactorily.

Chapman 59 January 1990 --- Margaret Elphinstone:

Douglas Clark's collection Coatham reads like an eclectic form of biography. The poems reflect the poet's own life and experiences through a kaleidoscope of images drawn from various literary traditions, contemporary places, and both personal and common history. The figure of the poet himself looms large: perhaps these poems are on the introspective side, but they make up an exciting and integrated book.

TOPS 83 Summer 1990 --- Leonard Blackstone:

TROUBADOR is in two main sections, `Camelot' written in Edinburgh and `Gallus' written in Bath, with some intervening poems written in Durham and Bath. Sound mainstream free verse, of which the criticism must be repeated, that it tells the reader rather than shows the reader what it is all about.

HORSEMEN: A second volume in a trilogy led by `Troubador'. The range is wider, moving from the personal to the historical and mythical --- Arthur and Merlin are recalled. Unaccountably there is a section of `Cat Poems' which don't (and can't) emulate Eliot. There is a final long poem on the Mongols, which works and is probably the best one in the book; it has echoes of Pound's `Cantos'.

COATHAM is the last volume of the trilogy, and is a return to childhood in an attempt to trace the sources of the author's ideas.

Disbanded (1991)

No known reviews.

Dysholm (1993)

No known reviews

Selected Poems (1995)

Avon Literary Intelligencer 16 January 1st 1996 --- William Oxley:

Some of the earlier poems in this volume --- for example `Odyssey', `Perennial', `For Baudelaire' or `Camelot' --- could have, with advantage, been ommitted in favour of more of the `Susan poems' or those springing from the poet's memories of childhood centred round the old house of Coatham Mundeville. Lines like, `When I may write of her/ That made me that I am/ My rhymes need no more run/ Herself enough of flair...' and `When our eyes met the first time/ A trance yet twenty yards away/ As met fate sprang my mind/ To read there's something there', from the poem `Odyssey', are unrevisedly and unreservedly awkward. Again, a poem like `Perennial' is packed with ideas but they are not properly grammatically assembled. On the other hand, by the time we reach the poem `Morning' on page 11, the form of clear poetic saying is almost completely emerged from the chrysalis of impression. And with the neat and completed clarity of `Yuri Gagarin' (dated 27 March 1968) the poet is at last in control of his word hoard. So that we can see that it was all only a matter of his finding his voice, as the critics put it. I am, of course, assuming that the poems throughout this selection are, by and large, printed in chronological order of composition; a supposition that seems confirmed by the progressive improvement of word mastery (and, therefore, of poetic exposition) throughout the volume. If this is not correct, then I am at a loss to account for the fact that weakest efforts dominate --- and are semingly confined to approximately --- the first third of the book.

Since the publication of Clark's five volumes of poetry since 1985, culminating in this Selected Poems ten years on, I have been attracted to this unusual poet for a number of reasons, not the least of which `reasons' has been the very special way he is able to personalize his historic and mythical scholarship through a kind of controlled messianic egotism. `I have come pure from the beginning...' `I was born a god', `I pretend to be the master poet./ I tell stories of a thousand years'; and there is the secret, the constant switching back and forth from the self-centred `I' to the universal `Thou'. As the poet says in the last two lines of the whole book, `I write these words and think of Heaven/ You will understand'; and both God and the Reader --- having completed this volume --- do get the picture, not only the poet's many preoccupations (His-story and History) but of his especial technique as well. And, more fully, here it is:

    What is best is what is old.
   My life has been a raw bleeding wound,
   Healed I look back and savour its richness.
   Poetry is love, and it is ever new to write it.
and pushing the logic further still:
   I believe only in poetry. The supernatural is a voice
   in the head. It is necessary to be absolutely modern.
You will hear, faintly, in that last line the influence of MacDiarmid; and Clark, though English-born, is deeply of a Scot's background.

All poets are hewn from the same piece of laurel wood; but in some the grain runs one way, in some another --- hence their varied temperaments and elective affinities. Clark is a brilliant dreamer. All poets, of course, are dreamers, but some are more obviously so. And Douglas Clark in his poems dreams-up much of myth and a recorded history into his poetry. For the past --- whether it is the long ago past of Celtic or Arthurian myth: or of recorded history; or of his childhood and his lost loves --- is obsessively interwoven with the emotionalism of his present. It is this mixture of past and present that he intimately personalizes for the reader's pleasure which is so pre-eminently an attractive feature of his poetry. Yet, oddly --- and this may be augur of greater work yet --- the most outstanding poem in the book is `The Mong', an historical meditation on the campaigns of Chingis Khan. And this is his greatest achievment because it is the only historical work of Clark which completely transcends its author --- i.e. the poet vanishes from it. Which, in one way, contradicts what I have said is so attractive in most of his other poems. But, in defence, I would say that even where the personal intrudes (as it mostly does) it, too, becomes objectified so that the poems are not marred by sentimentality, whimsey, mere self-expression, therapy, etc.; and that is because the personal elements are, as it were, always being subtly measured and tested against his more synoptic knowledge, his universal learning. See, for example, the poem `Cernunnos' where the `self' and its privately-lived life, is re-lived through a pagan god-figure: here autobiography is apotheosised.

Another, and smaller and wholly unphilosophical test --- but one that is absolutely final in the general reader's mind --- is the poet's gift for fine phrasing and beautiful lines. This Douglas Clark undoubtedly has, `They listened to the sad music played by fountains,/ Elegies sponging up their open hearts'; `Babyland was a feast of monsters'; and, from his poem `Stonehenge', `A landscape of unwanted sounds/ Mark the serenity of old stones'; or `For I will go where the starships go/ And follow the bleating wail of a child'; or `Little cat and I/ Sit huddled before the fire,/ We know the price of magic.'

But beyond all that, what really counts is poem-making --- what makes poems genuine and not `mere verse' --- is the poet's ability to put across feeling. Poems are not about things or events but, in the final analysis, they are about what the poet `feels' about things and events. To parody Laura Riding, the true poem-event is feeling. And it is two kinds of `feeling' that Douglas Clark is best at putting over; the historical sense and the lament for loss of love. And how does he achieve this? Well, of course, by following Sydney's famous advice, as he admits in the poem `The Moor's Sigh': `If you want to write poetry it must be done with all the heart'. And Douglas Clark's poetry is not only individual --- as all achieved poetry must be --- it is also sufficiently unusual to be more than usually attractive.

PN Review 108 March-April 1996 --- Rennie Parker:

With so much excellent technology available, any small press enterprise can turn out productions as smart as any multinational publisher. This serves Douglas Clark well in his Selected Poems, but he is let down by his aggrandising presentations of himself as Artist as Hero-Magician. It will be difficult for some readers to take his epic angst seriously:

I think on Poetry
And how I am the unknown outsider.
I think on Love
And how it has always been outside me...}

and he does himself no favours by describing his own collection as `more of a vanity production.' This alone will put off any readers he deserves; a shame when he can write such succesful poems as `The Moor's Sigh (for the Granada of Federico Garcia Lorca)', which is thirty one lines of sustained panache. If only Clark would work with a sympathetic but firm editor --- it is no good in insisting on total control over your own book production if that control consists of banging the lid down on your own head with such firmness.

PQR 2 Winter 1995 --- Paul McDonald:

Douglas Clark, in the final section of his SELECTED POEMS, takes the opportunity to demythologise himself:

I pretend to be the master poet.
I tell stories of a thousand years,
Not knowing where we are going.

Though I think Clark is wise not to claim to be a `master poet', some of the work in this collection is worthy of attention. STONEHENGE, for instance, where, `A landscape of unwanted sounds / mark the serenity of old stones' is an engaging poem; another is CRACKED, a quirky piece that ends with the line, `I live out of my mind'. These poems have a degree of energy and originality that the others lack. Unfortunately Clark's work, though occasionally cogent, doesn't, have either the sustained assurance or, for want of a better phrase, the imaginative substance of first class writing.

Cat Poems (1997)

No review copies sent out on publication. But a copy was sent with the 'Kitten Poems' pamphlet in 2002, giving a review.

Wounds (Salzburg University Press, 1997)

Avon Literary Intelligencer 25 April 1st 1998 --- Daniel Richardson:

Douglas Clark, a person who is hard to judge, and very modest and self controlled in manner, has published another little book, Wounds . One of the good qualities of this book is the straightforward and deadpan way in which it says extravagant things. Hulagu's Ride , for example, a long poem, something like Ezra Pound in the Cantos, shifts and cross compares and contrasts his own life with that of a Mongol war-king of the 13th century. There is a sense, which the reader is invited to share, that there is no real boundary or distinction and the two are recounted together. The poem starts like this:

1. The Oxus, 1 January 1256

Hulagu, grandson to Chingis,
brother to Mongke Khan, the Lord of All the World,
general.
Two years to collect the army at Samarkand
For the campaign.
Whilst Mongke, at Karakorum,
prepares simultaneously against the Sung.
Hulagu, 'as far as the borders of Egypt',
his remit.
The year breaks and the horsemen ride,
Europe so unimportant,
The fabulous world of Islam exposed,
The most beautiful civilisation extant.

My father died 20th February 1983
Of a heart attack.
It ripped my soul as I realised
I was the only one who understood his miserable life,
And how he had left nothing behind
to demonstrate his existence.
One day that summer I went mad,
Schizophrenia,
One of the most marvellous experiences of my life,
Terrifying.
Susan's voice and the mandalas,
The men in their blue jeans and the women in pink dresses,
The underlying pattern of the world.

As with Ezra Pound, there is an expansion of the ego over all of history, a wilful juxtapositioning of things, a bit of colour and some good details.

Also in this book, and it makes a nice change, there are some poems with music in them and a pleasure in the moment, all about love.

Mary

Mary, the April witch,
Spins words from a gossamer web
Into tapestry for my ears.
At five in the morning
She floats from her woods in Arkansas
To my window.
There she taps and enters
Bringing with her the goodness of sustenance
We lie in the morning light,
Her touch like thistledown.
We are in each other forever
Until she departs for her chores.
There is milking to be done,
Chickens to be fed.
I lie in my bed and love a dream.
I pinch her bottom as she heads out the window
To make her real.
She is Mary, Queen of Arkansas.

Cencrastus 60 Summer 1998 --- Dennis O'Donnell:

After Pow, I read Douglas Clark's `Wounds'. The first 15 or so poems bored the shit out of me. His poems on history - Arthurian or Mongol - seem as interesting as some student's lecture notes on the subject. And, too often for my taste, he intrudes himself as poet between poem and reader. I thought Watanabe did that a lot - nothing on your man Clark. Indeed he goes on about it so much -

   Now I am a very minor poet,
   I have to massage my ego 
   
           (`Exegi monumentum...')

   When I write I am all the poets in history

           (`Egotism')

I couldn't help getting the impression of a wee man shouting through an Alpine horn to scare off the giants. My cheese factor was getting high, so I checked the introduction by Fred Beake. (Wasn't he a puppet on some kids' show in the 60s? Or maybe that was Ollie Barker.) Old FB rated him so I checked out Clark's site on the World Wide Web. (Mr. Digital or what?) I got more interested, although there's a great deal of posery pish on it. Apparently the `Mary' poems are known in the USA as the `Arkansas' poems. Well, now, I don't live in the USA and those who do already knew that, so why burden me with it? And another thing - I don't give a rollicking fuck about his cat, Ludovic. What is it about some poets and their cats? `For I will consider my cat Jeffrey'... and all that shite. It's everywhere. Beverley Nicholls rules. I don't dislike the animals but there is something far too familiar about all this. It'd make a startingly different poem if somebody wrote about skinning their bloody cat for a pair of fur gloves and a nice lean roast with rosemary, garlic and salt. (Leave that one in, editor, I dare you.)

Anyway, I went back to the book. It's a collection of two halves, the first of which makes me as sick as a parrot, and the second of which has me over the moon. The second consists of the aforementioned `Mary' poems, a suite of deft poems with the lightest of touches about a muse who may or may not be a real woman.

   Mary won the Faulkner Prize.
   I can write at four thousand miles
   But can I write when she's with me?
   `I have broccoli and cucumber in my garden',
   Says Mary.
   `At night the thunder comes.'
   Mary writes alone.

      (`Mary and Writing')

Kitten Poems (2002)

Chapman 102-103 Summer 2003 --- Joao Henriques:

You don't have to be a cat lover in order to enjoy Douglas Clark's poetry pamphlets Cat Poems and Kitten Poems (The Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath, 5.00 each). Beyond the animal as both object of detailed observation and source of amazement, Clark lets another voice be heard: the voice of anguish when faced with his disease, sometimes even the voice of sorrow: "All I can say is/ Thank God you only live once". Cat Poems is the story of Fritz Cat's existence, told in a series of episode-poems until his sad death. Language becomes a strange sort of permanent tribute to that furry companion: "He was a famous cat/ Known throughout the world due to the poems". Kitten Poems besides a vivid account of Marty's (the kitten) first adventures, has in 'Biotext', 'Discharged' and 'Old' the most striking compositions of the lot. The title and the cover photograph would never suggest the presence of such violent texts as these.

Finality: New and Selected Poems (2005)

Poetic Inhalation Volume 4 Issue 8 --- Ric Carfagna:

Click for Ric Carfagna's review

Terrible Work April 2006 --- Tim Allen:

I like these deceptively casual poems about love, failure and cats, reading them in book format (unlike my first encounter when Douglas put them out on the britpo list and I was rude about them - a tongue in cheek retaliation for him being snide about a reading I gave once). I am reading lots of Russel Hoban novels at the moment and these poems fit perfectly into that mood. Dead pan sadness produced through wonderfully judged understatement. I mentioned 'failure' above but Douglas' life has had its small victories: 'My paedophile headmaster chased me round the table, / I escaped.'


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