Spell: A Romance,
by Tom Clark
Black Sparrow, Santa Rosa, 2000
How many times have I written lovely in the margins of this
book after a page, paragraph or line like "I will give up my mind
for you"? Rush of hyperbolic blood, wish I'd written that, not to
be known for it, but that its original force might warm me later.
It's a beautiful line. A joke about calibration. This is, after
all, a romance, in the measure of which Clark casts the "atmospherical
medium" about as far as it might go and still "make the book" on
man, his emotional na‘vet», wild estrangements and confusions, his
idealism which is, perhaps, more a psychological tic (as in, "what
makes him tic?"), and so forth. It's a beautiful book of lustrous
darkness, both comic and toxic. Something howling in the cavities
A spell is space welling up in time,
an interval, clearing, then closing, "time has come to move on,"
Clark writes, back into the land, in this case "the country I come
from" as well, some spirit-addled upper-lake region midway in some
century which hasn't yet occurred, except like a bomb in the night.
(Maybe like a phantom bomb where you wake up knowing you
heard it.) A land of alien landing strips, "interrogation yards
of religious residences," two-headed dogs, puppet-dwarfs, mechanical
owls, sunken mildewed nuthead elms, "swarms of no-see-ums," hallucinatory
wig bubbles, et alii mixed into the swirl of a careening anamorphic
narrative, the recursions of which become legends, look through
the inscrutable windows of the alphabet, and into the eyes of your
mind, Don't think you can't be taken.
Jokes like little mechanical moles
tearing up the surface, an injection insertion at the circus, a
little sickness with every punchline, and tunnels beneath the turf
of green dark in the earliest of hours (far upstream from Paterson!).
So who first wrote the legends that became the letters of which
the spell is cast, stirring phantasmal sounds and shapes in the
mind, like stirring a child in bed? Deor, the "Seafarer" poet, Malory,
Marlow, Cotton Mather (in drag), Irving, Hawthorne and Poe, Longfellow
(on windowpane), late Twain and Faulkner, Pynchon, Dorn, early Cormac
McCarthy, T. C. Boyle, to list a portion of one line--do I hear
Arshile Gorky as well, some restless nightmare dosing within the
architecture of grasses, dreaming of stars' decay?
This romance (see Hawthorne, above)
is both novel and old, prose and poetry alive at the border, as
skin or blood-brain barrier. The poetry is often as lovely as anything
I've seen in the interstices, any interstices, or on the
other side of any membrane. In these intervals, clearings, forms
rise from the lakes of toxic legend, or from mud, rise like nymphs,
shoulders and wingblades first (Can the world be both toxic and
comic? How not?), rise before your face and disappear as peripeties
collapse, always a shock like the echo of something that never happened.
As I said, the poetry is lovely and although there is a languorous
exchange of bodily fluids with the prose, it has maintained as well
its precoital state of ripe promiscuity. I know it's magic. So what?
What it is is a real pleasure to read someone who cares about writing
(As opposed to what? Well, you know, those unconsidered notions
of social responsibility or of the self), much less someone who
cares and can write and in whose voice we'd find a man who
put his life to it, and his mind, and has found it considerable.
And hell, after you read it, you
can always smoke it, right?