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Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark's poems are, in Timothy Donnelly's words, those of "a real 'fin de millennium' decadent." The work frequently takes the form of a dramatic monologue, the utterance of an irrepressibly reprehensible sensualist. (One series, in which each poem is called "Demonologue," is delivered in the voice of a Mephistophelean master who both loves and torments his slave.) What saves these poems from mere affection or derivativeness-enervated emanations from a hundred years ago, or fashionable enactments of the po-mo master/slave motif-is Clark's inspired, infatuated way with words. It's language he loves and assaults, language he will not let rest.

In Clark's successive overlays of underling, one can discern a love of the very structures of submission, supercession. I take the carnal terms to be figures for rhetoric itself, with its intricate intelligences of subordination. In "The Ghost Has No Home," Clark writes: "I have no desire to theorize language . . . / I would rather waylay and molest / the beast who has imagined and pent me here." And where is the speaker pent? He's pent up ("high, like one . . . in a . . . ditch"). It's no accident the word "pent" is used, in the ranter's high house, nor that it brings the word "penned" to mind: this poet writes within what he is writing about. There, the imaginee tests and detests his imaginer, the made his maker. And what's a self-imaginer to do? He makes of his idiosynchrony a happy sadomasochism, a luxuriance of prurience. He makes of two-faced solitude "a Sentry's couplet I half-knew . . . "

Visiting Clarkish psycholinguistic territories, we're as liable to be terrified as lullabied. In "My Interior" (which originally appeared in Volt) we can't be sure at just what scarlet landscape we've arrived. It's a diabolical red-light district, visceral, with its own assembly lines (the inhalers on the conveyor belt tell us something of what hell might be, for inspiration). Hookered, hookah'd, hooked, the speaker dozes his way into his own daydream, where "my best records are all hiss and moan and tremolo" and where the sensual is a kind of cinema: "But then, from way off, with cranking / comes my night, and when it arrives / I go to it like a callboy to a c-note." Ex machina (a theremin, a pump, a Wurlitzer in back) the worshipped dark arrives, whereat a kind of genius seizes all these c's- making the many senses (of cranking and coming, currency and calling) all conspire. Jeff Clark is his own gendee, and that c-note, that means he answers to, is (an amusing, amazing) music.

-Heather McHugh

Poems:

Napoleonette

My Interior

The Ghost Has No Home

Demonologue

She Will Destroy You

Napoleonette

If I Don't Return

Tethered Couplets

Originally published in the December 1996/ January 1997 issue of Boston Review



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