Tom Clark, renowned poet and biographer, dies in Berkeley crash

The Berkeley man who died after being struck by a car while crossing The Alameda at 8:40 p.m. on Friday has been identified by friends as the poet Tom Clark.

Clark was a poet, editor, sportswriter and biographer, according to his Wikipedia entry which had been updated with his death, including a link to Berkeleyside’s afternoon story, on Saturday. He was born in Chicago and attended the University of Michigan. He married Angelica Heinegg in 1968 in New York. Clark wrote dozens of books of poetry. His recent books include Light & Shade: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House, 2006) and Threnody (effing press, 2006).

Clark wrote many poems about sports figures, including poems about the baseball players Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue and Bert Campaneris, as well as a history of the Oakland A’s baseball team, according to Poetry Review. Clark developed a love for sports early in his life as he served as an usher at Wrigley Field in Chicago “where he saw such renowned figures of the era as Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Hull, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Harry S. Truman,” said poets.org. “His experiences among these figures are reflected in his poems, which frequently feature these and other prominent figures from the 1950s and ’60s.”

Clark studied in England and while there became friends with many poets who came to define the Beat generation. He hitchhiked around the country with Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (whom he later disagreed with publicly) and read his poetry with other writers such as Robert GravesGregory Corso, Andrei Voznesensky and Adrian Mitchell. Clark also wrote a biography of the Beat writer Jack Kerouac, as well as ones on Charles OlsonRobert Creeley and Ed Dorn, according to the Poetry Foundation.


Clark was the poetry editor for the prestigious Paris Review from 1963-1973. He had been recommended by his former teacher Donald Hall, also a poet.

In an introduction to a 2010 collection of Clark’s work, his publisher wrote of the poet taking nighttime walks in his hometown.

“In a new twist on lyric possibility, Clark trains his limpid style and eye on current street life in Berkeley, California,” the publisher wrote. “This is true of his most recent poems, which depict nocturnal walks in Berkeley, California —not the Berkeley of a faded, nostalgic, radical past, but rather the multi-cultural Berkeley of today that circulates in the streets outside the university gates.”

Billy Collins, the poet laureate of the U.S. from 2001-2003, wrote in his review of Light & Shade that “Tom Clark, the lyric imp of American poetry, has delivered many decades’ worth of goofy, melancholic, cosmic, playful, and wiggy poems. I can never get enough of this wise guy leaning on the literary jukebox, this charmer who refuses to part with his lovesick teenage heart,” according to poets.org.

Reacting to the news on social media, people talked of a terrible loss, saying Clark had lived “a full and adventurous life.” “Anyone who reads contemporary poetry … can’t avoid this poet’s talent,” wrote another fan.

Clark had just updated his blog, “Beyond the Pale,” on Friday.

The San Francisco-based poet and memoirist Neeli Cherkovski shared a poem with Berkeleyside that he wrote Saturday in memory of Clark:


FOR TOM CLARK, POETA

find me, I’m here sometimes
smoking or entertaining
passing birds, or wishing
for a literary grant
to land on my doorstep.
o I try to finish the memoir
hanging over me, picking
certain stories, turning them
into wall paper or linoleum-

I found Buddha one
afternoon – nobody around me
understood – this Buddha
enjoyed the birds, did not try
to cage them – now I find
consolation in the quivering boughs
of the trees I’ve planted,
saplings now 70 feet tall

*

I WAS READING the selected
poems of Tom Clark
a few days ago, once they were
and now remain, he’s been taken
to the river, left on the sand,
allowed to flow over rock
and willow branches – nothing
but words, words alone, no body
now mind

hello Tom – I just wanted to say
hello – we barely met – there is
always a place where we might
have talked – I was reading the poems
when a message came – you are
gone – down to a point down
that passage – we desire such a thing
because we are worthy