Mild-mannered librarian Gary Clark hides a rich alter ego, a second self
who is a successful poet.
Clark specializes in speculative poetry, a genre or subcategory of poetry that plays with science fiction, fantasy and horror elements.
In fact, Clark is the secretary of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, a group with about 200 members that gives out annual awards for their particular kind of poetry.
“If you like reading science fiction, fantasy and horror you’ll like speculative poetry,” Clark says. “It’s not something you’re going to find in The New Yorker magazine or in academic magazines but it reaches out, it’s accessible,” he added.
His latest chapbook is “Bone Sprockets” published by Dark Regions Press of Brentwood. Dark Regions also published two previous Clark chapbooks. “Bone Sprockets” is available at Bogey’s Books in downtown Davis for $5.95.
“Beans Bizarre” is the first poem in the book, which Clark wrote after sipping a cup of coffee at Café Roma some years ago:
“Down at the café,
UFO abductees sip mochas
While trading snapshots
Of their dreams,
Novice Draculas sit
Motionless behind their dark
Glasses, languidly sucking
On double expressos,
And decaf zombies
Stare into the black holes of
Their coffee mugs, no longer
Wondering – what next?”
He credits his Rancho Yolo neighborhood for the creative prompt that gave rise to “Live and Let Live.” Here’s the first stanza:
“The aliens next door
Are fighting again, the same old
Arguments about unfulfilled expectations,
Lack of funds, and moving to this
Town in the first place.”
“I write whenever the spirit hits me, so to speak,” he said in a recent interview. “Mostly on weekends. I write it out in longhand first and it goes through several revisions.”
Clark writes poetry because it’s the form he feels most comfortable with.
“I seem to have a voice for it,” he says. A little success helps, too.
After a few poems see publication, you’re hooked. Add to that a handful of poetry awards and Clark admits that he can’t stop.
“It encourages you to go on,” he said, citing a 60 percent publication rate for his speculative poetry. Mainstream poetry is harder to place.
He says it takes persistence to be a good poet.
“You hone your skills as you go along,” he said. Like any skill, it takes time and practice.
“I write free verse,” he said. “I don’t worry about style so much as running out of ideas and so far that hasn’t happened. But I do want my poems to sound right and that can take three or four revisions. They have to sound right.”
Clark says he is obsessed with time.
“I’m obsessed with it because for one thing I’m running out of it,” he said. On the other hand, he’s looking forward to his retirement from UC Davis – still several years away – because it will give him more time to write.
“Time is fun to play with, too,” he said. “I like writing about past/future and I like reading good narrative histories and alternate histories.” Clark said he first tried his hand at writing during college when he took short story writing classes and attempted to write his first poems.
Clark earned a bachelor’s degree in English from San Jose State in 1975.
“It was a survey course in contemporary American poetry taught by Rob Swigart – who later went on to write a number of novels – that helped spur my interest,” he said. Clark’s first poem was published in the Big Sur Gazette in 1979.
“More rejection slips followed but so did acceptance slips,” he said. “Eventually two chapbooks saw print: ‘Letting the Eye to Wonder,’ and ‘7 Degrees of Something,’ in 1990 and 1991, respectively. He describes those two collections as largely mainstream poems although he said one reviewer recently discovered that a few seeds of speculative poetry can be found among them.
His first speculative poem was published in 1988 in the Magazine of Speculative Poetry.
Since then, a drought of a few years, then more acceptances and a few awards. And so it goes.
“I still feel like I’m learning my craft,” he says.
Married and divorced twice, he helped raise his son, Ian, in Davis.
Along the way, he became an “avid reader of anything and everything that caught my interest” and can frequently be seen checking out the latest arrivals in local bookstores. He likes science fiction prose writers Stephen Baxter and Joe Haldeman.
Clark has a cat, Ariel. He denies that she offers any inspiration at all and yet she makes appearances in his poems.
-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at email@example.com and in a future column find out what Dan Kennedy has been up to on this web site.
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