Kevin Clark - portrait of the artist as a real guy...
This is the kind of poetry I wish I’d been exposed to in school, and judging from the tales Kevin Clark tells through his new book, “Self-Portrait with Expletives,” he’s the kind of guy I would have like to have hung out with back then, too. Fortunately, he’s given readers a tour through his range of life (and near-death) experiences that not only let the reader relive some of the most important times of one’s existence, but through the lens of maturity also help frame the importance of those shaping events.
When it comes to poetry, I'm far from being an expert. Frankly, it sometimes goes right over my head. Waaaaay over my head. Other times, some of it – as celebrated as it may be – seems like pointless drivel. Certain pieces sometimes grab me, but I often find other genres more appealing.
That said, as soon as I read the book’s first poem, “Eight Hours in the Nixon Era,” I was hooked. It kickstarted me on a nearly non-stop burst of reading.
Any good piece of art - writing, film/TV, music, a painting, etc. – has to draw me in, make me care and have me relating it to some part of my life. Clark’s book does all that – and more. I’ve known the author for close to a decade now and have corresponded with him regularly, so as I read his poems it was easy to see him and those in his world living in his words. That, alone, showed me that he was able to paint a true-to-life/true-to-the-artist picture. What really caught my “insides,” however, was that even though I knew what/who he was writing about, it was just as easy to transpose my own life and cast of characters into his stories. If it were radio, you’d refer to it as “the theatre of the mind.”
“Self-Portrait with Expletives” isn’t a particularly long book - just 90 pages. It’s definitely one of those you can sit down with and read in one evening. My own take on it is that you’re probably better-served going through it one piece per day – maximum. Like a good meal, it should not be rushed through. Each course should be given a good look before being consumed, “chewed” thoroughly and then left to settle…think about.
Putting it down unfinished, is no easy task. This is one of those collections of literature where days later, something in it hits you – WHAM! You either say, “so that’s what he meant!” as you relate it to something that just happened in your own life, or you think back to something in your past and connect the dots to one of Clark’s adventures (and you probably chuckle as you do).
While it's a great book for readers, it's instructive for aspiring poets. It proves that you don’t have to be cryptic… you don’t have to smother the reader with symbols or bizarre motifs...to reach important places in a person. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a superficial stroll down Memory Lane. It is, however, very accessible. What’s more, I think it’s a book that speaks to the male of our species. You see relationships, mistakes, triumphs and more from a distinctly male vantage point and from that point Clark brings a unique voice to the world of poetry. (Hollywood has made a mountain of money with romantic dramedies that are now referred to as “chick flicks”; Clark has given us “dude poetry” – and that’s a good thing. It’s about time.)
If poetry isn’t your first choice, it doesn’t matter. “Self-Portrait with Expletives” should be on your reading list - regardless. It’s a book of stories – stories that mean something. And when it’s a tale (or collection of them) worth telling – and reading – the form shouldn’t matter. Clark’s book not only deserves the kudos it’s received, but it also deserves you reading it.
Clark’s first full-length collection "In the Evening of No Warning," earned a grant from the Academy of American Poets. He’s also published three chapbooks: "One of Us" (Mille Grazie Press), "Granting the Wolf" (State Street Press) and "Widow under a New Moon" (Owl Creek Press).
Kevin Clark's “Self-Portrait with Expletives” is the winner of the 2009/2010 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series. His book will be published in trade paperback by Pleiades Press and distributed by LSU Press in April ($16.95 – ISBN-13: 978-0-8071-3645-4, Kevin Prufer and Susan Ludvigson, series editors). For more information on Clark, you can check out his homepage at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s College of Liberal Arts (where he is a professor).