shuffaloff books

In The Analogy, John Clarke

(shuffaloff books,Toronto, 1997)

John Clarke was a true magician in the art of analogy. I remember being a student of his at SUNY Buffalo and the way he tricked me into liking Greek mythology by saying "this is just like that episode of Star Trek where..." or "this guy is kind of like Bob Dylan..." I never understood the way his mind worked or how it was that he made my mind work in such strange ways. Now, with the publication of Clarke's final collection of poems I'm happy to find a book that once again shakes up my sleepy perception of the time-space continuum. In The Analogy is a terrific book on several levels. Firstly it picks up the thread of other epic preoccupations- bouncing off of Blake and Olson, accumulating speed through cosmological thinking, and rebounding into the information of the every day. Poetically, Clarke's "athletic syllable," in sonnet form, and epigraphed by quotations often in grids of four, is a must see for anyone fascinated by the higher mysteries of form. The work runs on a syntax of interruptions and asides and Clarke twists the line to a jazz beat, where "Caught in Einsteinian space by mind-sound-substances/the poem bends, impedes, speeds-up, cools the local/field of time..." ("A Web of Lead"). Finally, I like the work because it's about tripping. The vehicle for the trip isn't an illegal substance, it's more like the poet's attentiveness. As Clarke asks in "Heterophrosyne," "Isn't the idea of phenomenologically diverse dimensions/better served by the notion that it's all happening at once, that all the ways really are fully delivered into our hands/so by doing anything (which isn't easy after the passivity), as Duncan says, changes everything?" In The Analogy offers a glimpse of those diverse dimensions that Clarke inhabited during his lifetime, not only as a writer and thinker, but as a fragile human in the landscape of the American frontier.

-Lisa Jarnot