Sunday, April 20, 2008

Repost: Help Tom Clark

I'm reposting this from Dale Smith's blog because Tom Clark's in some dire straits after the collapse of New College...

Tom Clark needs your help. He is stranded with no salary and no medical insurance to cover costs due to a recent stroke. He also needs funds for medications to aid in the recovery of his wife, Angelica Clark, from surgery on her hip.

After 25 years on the faculty of the New College of California’s Poetics Program, payment on his salary and his insurance was abruptly stopped when the school came under scrutiny of federal and state auditors last fall.

Tom Clark has been an important voice in postwar American poetry since the 1960s. For a decade he was the poetry editor for The Paris Review. His many books appeared with Black Sparrow for nearly thirty years, and his biographies of Jack Kerouac, Charles Olson, and Edward Dorn have provided essential perspectives on the lives of these New American authors. He is a passionate and devoted teacher who deserves far greater recognition for his services to American poetry communities.

He needs your help now.

There will be a Tom Clark benefit reading in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, April 26, at 7 pm. A painting by Austin painter Philip Trussell will be auctioned, and broadsides and chapbooks by Clark will be available for purchase. Sliding scale donations are required at the door. Beer and wine will be available. All proceeds will be directed to Clark.

I am collecting donations as well from those of you outside of Austin who are willing to contribute. Please send what you can immediately to:

Tom Clark
c/o Dale Smith
2925 Higgins Street
Austin, Texas 78722

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Background to the Situation

When the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) put the New College of California on probation in July 2007, I wondered what would happen to that 37-year-old institution. By November, the federal Department of Education refused to release $3 million in financial aid. That month, the school stopped paying faculty salaries. Since then, the school has lost its accreditation and it has closed doors indefinitely, stranding many former instructors with no income and a loss of health benefits. A February 28 article in the San Francisco Chronicle provides more details.

With Hoa Nguyen, Renee Gladman, Leslie Davis, Jeff Conant, Michael Price, and others, I attended the college in the mid 1990s, studying in the Poetics Program with David Meltzer, Lyn Hejinian, Gloria Frym, Adam Cornford, and Tom Clark. It’s a drag to think of that program’s disintegration, particularly since luminaries such as Robert Duncan, Joanne Kyger, and Diane di Prima had taught there over the years too.

I remember hearing Clark Coolidge, Lorenzo Thomas, Alice Notley, Barbara Guest, and others read there over the years, and I recall the cultural, material, and historic grounding of study in poetics at that time.

The attraction to the program centered on the fact that faculty in the Poetics Program were all poets, and yet instead of teaching in the traditional workshop format, instructors taught courses in poetics and in the material production of poetry.

My first semester included classes in Shelley, Backgrounds to Romantic Culture, and Lyn Hejinian’s class in poetic theory called, “The Language of Paradise.” Other semesters focused on Early Modern, Modernist, and American Renaissance periods, providing students with a thorough grounding in the theoretical, historical, and material backgrounds to the periods studied.

One semester I took Hejinian’s class on Stein, Clark’s on Olson, and Meltzer’s class on backgrounds to modernism, in which we read about John Reed, the IWW, and other revolutionary social movements that joined art and politics to influence change. I also was fortunate enough to study the art of letterpress printing with Jeff Conant.

Students were engaged with the creative possibility provided through poetry, and we worked to discover ways to increase our awareness of the art through study, conversation, and learning the skills necessary to publish magazines and chapbooks on our own. We learned how to extend conversations in poetry to existing audiences. And we learned how to listen to the ongoing dialogues that compose much of the contemporary verse we discovered in California and beyond at that time.

My years at New College grounded me in a serious education from which I could move forward on my own once the formal course work had been completed. I wrote a thesis on Philip Whalen, took my degree, and moved to Austin, where, with Hoa Nguyen, we began to produce magazines, books, essays, poetry, and host readings. New College’s emphasis on the material production of the poem as a social tool of engagement stuck with me. And as testament to the concreteness of this plan of study provided by New College, I was later accepted to a PhD program at the University of Texas based on this prior period of study and the resulting years of production.

By academic standards, the school was funky. But in terms of what was provided intellectually and creatively, it was essential and instructive.

Help those who have seen their livelihood damaged by the mismanagement of New College administration.

Send what you can today.

Please help Tom Clark.

1 comment:

nkaravatos said...

I entered the Poetics Program at NCoC just after this writer, graduating in 1999. I don't have anything to add, but wanted to second his true words.