Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
» Cover

» In Memoriam

» Art
» Poetry
» Fiction
» Essays
» Reviews

» Contributors

» Oyster Boy Review
» Levee 67


Thomas A. Clark's The Hundred Thousand Places

Jeffery Beam

  The Hundred Thousand Places.
Thomas A. Clark.
Carcanet, 2009.
96 pages, $16.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1847770053

Scottish site-specific and minimalist poet Thomas A. Clark never inhabits a landscape but becomes it, or even more precisely manifests it, as reflected in the Taoist-like title of this new collection. The Hundred Thousand Places treads the Fife eastern coast of Scotland near Pittenweem where Clark lives with his artist wife Laurie. The poet's voice—disembodied—narrates the paths taken becoming the "you" who experiences: "no longer / ahead of yourself / in imagination / nor behind yourself / pushing on // you walk / above yourself / space spreading round you / the sand / bearing your weight." Clark's poems always move leisurely through the natural world so that the reader doesn't feel buffeted but rather swept by gentle breezes and revived, revised, by subtle but startling horizons: "colour / the first / candour." Place perpetually engages Clark's poetics. The Taoist "ten thousand things" become the hundred thousand places of these poems. Things are never just objects but rather numinous relations, exchanges of vision for Vision:

the blue butterfly's
moment on the purple
thistle flower
is indolent

idly its hoarded
blue is unfolded
onto difference
then folded again

Nothing extraneous intrudes, but the world, given entirely, not only meditates but also mediates and heightens the senses: "not a stranger in the glen / without a rumour on the breeze / not a stray sheep on the hill / without word of it." Everything present, everything revealing essence—"rocks fallen / from high places / keep their composure" while you come to know—"you will have to go / all round it / to see it // have to stay / with it / to know it."

Clark continues to amaze me—this writing should be vaporous, romantically limp, kitten-soft, or coldly indifferent, but Clark has found a way of passionate detachment through auditory and tactile candidness—a tightrope of attention and release—through which the reader's vulnerability and solitude becomes breath, as compelling as the open-eyed walks he describes.

Profound, Gnostic, communal, Clark's poems, although seemingly quiet and plain radically transform walking into ecstasy, looking into being, and the human into integrated source:

there is a faculty
that takes to the moor
and another that brings
you down to the shore

a part of you sheltered
by a gable wall
a part of you open
to the elements

a part of you substantial
and weathered as rock
a part of you mist
dusk and smoke

. . .