a review by Ric Carfagna
Finality claims to be, in the author’s own words, Douglas Clark’s final book. To quote the author directly from an e-mail: “The book is intended to be my last publication and is a mix of New and Selected.” Finality was compiled to celebrate the author’s 60th birthday in 2002. The collection seems to have been assembled with a deep sincerity and its selections chosen specifically to showcase the spectrum of the author’s career. Its personal resonances are evident in almost every piece. At times Douglas has chosen to be a confessional, intimate bard; at other times a historian expounding both mythic and factual situations from the past, Britain’s past; there is no mistaking Douglas as a true British poet. There are many offerings in Finality from Douglas’s major work: The Horseman Trilogy, including one of the Camelot poems from Troubadour as well as three House Poems from Disbanded, among others. These tantalizing selections tease the reader’s palette, making them want to delve deeper into the book of origin. It’s a good thing for us that there is an ample selection of these earlier works and a full bibliography at Douglas’s website: http://www.dgdclynx.plus.com
I would like to expound a bit on the above mentioned modes of poetry that Douglas undertakes. One example of the historical aspect is a poem entitled The elegy of G. Cornelius Gallus, one of the two Gallus poems included from the Troubadour volume. On page nine we read:
I lie in my bed and think of Empire.
The farmlands drifting across the world
to the distant lair of technocratic Europe.
The centre holds me in its tiny grip.
Lycoris climbs the steppe to High Germany
Where the missile squadrons pout and glare,
Feeding of the incorruptible power that we made,
The dark reds and the dark blues of the Legions
swathed over brown forested countryside.
The plateglass city built on papier-mâché.
This is a powerful work, conjuring up the ostensibly contrasting worlds of pastoral country landscape - ala Wordsworth - with the horror of war and violence, all transpiring amid the sterility of an inevitable technological progress:
The sheep have no fear of the gun.
The lambkins huddle around it for protection
. . .
In the North Country you cannot see the satellites
The eternal spinners that dip low over Egypt.
The horsemen parade before a proud Lycoris.
Over the heath is the sound of a drum.
Am I dreaming?
This elegy might bear the dedication to G. Cornelius Gallus but it is also a personal ‘swansong’ of sorts for the poet himself and the world he once knew and loved, one that he now sees slipping away:
I once believed in poetry.
It won me the love I never had,
It paved the Angel’s path,
But it was illusion.
The world belongs to the city
And he has the power who pulls the strings.
In these lines we see the author’s disillusion: the sad truth of a ‘system’ far beyond the ability of any ‘one’ to control or even remedy.
As a confessional poet, Douglas’s work traces a unique idiosyncratic trajectory. I do not find it overly self-indulgent or bathetic, no more so than Robert Lowell. These are not the words of a self-deprecating flagellant, they are words that ‘connect’ on a deeper level, touching a natural world which is common to all. His poems present us with semantic situations that goad the reader to dig below initial surficial perception. They are words emanating from a perceptive heart in touch with humanity: its pains, its joys and its innate ability to transcend the bitter. This from Victory, the title itself eliciting a positive outlook:
It is enough to be alive
The energy of a new day confirmed.
I have been there.
I have seen the eyes and heard the voices.
Written down the bloodjet metaphors of poetry.
The Augustan anthem rolls off my tongue.
. . .
What I want is the dream I carry with me.
Of not being alone in all this mumbo-jumbo
Of sharing a skin.
Not knowing where one person ends and the other begins.
Finality contains abundant excerpts of Mary Poems, so called by the author, from his 1997 Saltsburg Press release Wounds, as well as selections from Kitten Poems, a 2002 publication. These are poems eliciting an uncomplicated, common beauty; the diurnal workings and heart-felt sentiments for his lover, and correspondingly for his cat. (Being a cat person I can most definitely relate to the emotion Douglas puts forth.) What stands out in these Mary and Kitten poems is an unpretentious appreciation and expression of the important aspects in the life of the poet. This is Our Bed:
‘I sleep on the left hand side’, I tell Mary,
‘You sleep beside the wall.’
‘When you’re not on top of me’, she says
I think of prairies and the mountains and the seas.
She outfits the kitchen and the bathroom in her own image.
She feeds Ludovic.
She takes over the house.
I have to re-arrange the furniture.
We buy Cornish pastries at the neighborhood shop.
We heat them up in the oven.
We sit in the evening drinking little bottles of wine.
We love each other.
Douglas isn’t ashamed or self-conscious about letting us in on the intimate things that bring him joy: the beauty and loves of his life. What we have is his sincerity without the added baggage of an exaggerated ego or artifice; just straight and simple words which touch our heart. From Ludovic the cat:
To hold his still-warm body in my hands
As I buried him
He was only six years old.
A black Bath neutered moggy with piercing golden eyes.
It’s refreshing to hear a poet tell it like it is in a noncircuitous language with images to which the reader can explicitly relate. These Mary and Kitten poems offer a nice variation from the Camelot and other weightier historical works in the collection. Both cases, though, tap into the vital and deeper aspects of humanity: one personally, one universally.
presents us with an unaffected and effective mode of poetic expression. It is a
poetry of honest simplicity and direct statement. It is a collection bodying
forth an unequivocal apprehension of the image; a black and white, cut and dry
articulation of how it is, at least from the vantage point of how our author
sees it. Simplicity and direct statement seem to be two aspects of the poetic
art form that has fallen out of favor, at least it seems that way in the coterie
of certain vocal poets barking their latest manifesto from rooftops, trying to
shake up what they perceive as a stagnant, antiquated arena of poetry. Movements
and fads crop up perennially, blaze their trail and become a part of poetic
history. That in itself is all well and good and one of the more important
revolutionary aspects of poetry. But when all the hoopla and vociferous
stridencies are enacted and then inevitably exhausted, the basic need to
communicate remains. This is at the root of all poetry. Finality offers
us this root without us having to dig aimlessly through a lot of ancillary and
unnecessary semantic debris. It is a ‘complete’ poetic package, a unique
worldview into the personal and historical realm of an important British poet.
Finality is a wonderfully diverse poetic legacy that the author has left
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