John (Jack) Clarke carried out an extensive correspondence with Tom Clark while Clark was writing Charles Olson: The allegory of a poet’s life. Clarke initiated the exchange, which runs to some 200 typewritten pages, in hopes of influencing Clark’s increasingly hostile relation with the subject of his biography. He was unsuccessful. This letter was written toward the end of the correspondence after the book was published and the first reviews using Clark’s book to attack Olson began to appear.
                                                                                         June 28 1991
Dear Tom,[2] Cass said yes, Gerrit[3] sent it, but did you see the Dawson[4] letter, no sez Pen, Robert and Fee no longer speak; and so they agree he’s an asshole etc., so when she tells me I take it to mean they want to see it, Fee’s letter for the joke it is (as she said Bob’s response to the Disch was laughter), which is why I sent it to them. Actually, there were three “unexplained” enclosures (mailed with intent.).  Charlie Palau[5] had tried to deliver by hand but Bob had already split for Me.) a fax from Bill Sylvester,[6] which had been put in my box at the Dept. by mistake; a letter from a would-be subscriber who said he didn’t want any intent. (pay for) which didn’t have RC in it, which I thought Bob might get a laugh out of; and 3) the Dawson.  There was no need to send Cook’s[7] response to Disch as he had already sent a copy to Creeley (Al said).  None of these needed, I thought, explanation, so were simply stuck in, as Palau had returned them in the envelop, especially not Fee’s effluviam, or as I take it Creeley thinks to call “filth,” though I don’t see why you call my sending it to him “second hand slime”?  Nor do I see how 2 people getting it constitutes “circulation”? This construed question of the great UNEXPLAINED ENCLOSURE is a red herring anyway.  (I’m sure Pen told him of the conversation so knew it was possibly coming.)  Bob’s piss-off, if that’s what to call it, is from other reasons entirely, I’m sure. He has you know now withdrawn from the Curriculum (by letter to me and to Glover), so to him it is the end of 20 yrs. It all started of course with Duncan’s failed Olson Memorials[8], which both Harvey and I cancelled, if again that’s a word to use w/out getting into it, Duncan for, and Bob went with Duncan on the question obviously (that is, as it should be, he wasn’t there, plus wasn’t that close to Duncan – his invitation I think coming out of that Bard Bl. Mt. thing Duncan read at); next thing was the Olson Memorial by “that minister of Berkeley” (RC), which Bob cancelled – and the whole issue is over the “spiritual” (the Curriculum as you know is of the Soul) – when we were starting out with the Cof S Robt Kelly put the project down for dredging up the old question of the soul again and Charles cancelled him, “never darken my door again…”  (Fee he cancelled for the Bl Mt Bk mostly) – Creeley & I have always “parted company” on this issue, but it wasn’t openly stated because there was no occasion – till now); now, finally, this groundswell of resentment and possessiveness” (RC) has become the occasion, the occasion of the public exposure of different “frames” (Bob’s word) of Olson by people who knew him at different “times” in his life.  And any “special view” of Olson might be called possessive of him, but I think what has “spooked” Bob (his word) is this what he regards as religious contexting of Olson.  When Blake in old age had disciples they called him The Intepreter.  That nicely neutral, the man is simply one who interprets things better than anyone else around, someone you can go to etc.  Now we all know there are other matters involved here, other transmissions etc. Our problem all along, & maybe Kelly was right in a way, was to leave or propose things in a, for lack of a better term, spiritual vocabulary of enthusiasm in a time of the end of existential humanism.  This of course began for me and most others of the CofS long before any association with CO.  What is problematic for Bob I think is including his Olson in such drek (his word), when he has been at pains for some time to “edit out” the kook strain and make Charles available to all (problem is it hasn’t worked out that way – by expunging the real agenda of O’s  work – in the “church forever” – in fact any theoretical side to it (and you know how such “dogmatic” statements as that which exists through itself etc can be heard as essentially of an existential context as in Creeley’s things come and go so let them poem, which is terrific but of another orientation than the Golden Flower say, among many possible) as extraneous to what the poem itself is saying (sometimes true, but not as agenda) – anyway the upshot is that O’s work, except for the Ca tomes, is almost unavailable and he’s being taken out of anthologies he was once in).  I don’t see limiting Charles to poetry as such or except as such or certainly to Bl Mt Movement in same or whatever as being useful to keeping him in print and available.  On those criteria he may not even make it.  Creeley’s and Duncan’s initial response to his verse was the wastebasket.  They responded to his unquestioned authority. From whence does it derive?  You say Fate (not influence), so be it.  At least that’s a contexting beyond reality as “the shifting face of need” (Bob’s definition back in The Island, if you remember?)  It seems to me Bob loves the line from The Librarian, say, but would have no interest (public) in what is buried there (& I don’t mean George’s love-kins), but the actual “metaphysics” of the question (in overall context of the work).  And this so-called or thought-of theoretical side to it does influence this side, e.g., was that even Lufkin’s diner Creeley was in 1966? or had it already become the one that’s there now?  As I recall it was already changed (I’ll check with Gerrit who will know).  I drove John to Panna’s[9].  Mary & I had our honeymoon there.  Panna had not yet arrived.  Saw Charles the next 2 day-nights through (he put Mary to bed in Charles Peter’s room). We are breakfast at the diner the morning we left, Charles doing the Lord’s Prayer, which Mary could of course remember better than he could.  And I don’t think it was Lufkin’s anymore, no it wasn’t.  Point is, as in the Moebius Strip, one side turns into the other easily, and back.  And if you don’t have or propose the two, what have you got?  Certainly not Olson, who was a stickler on this point. Biomorphism, the fusion of the 2 sides into one.  He taught, as you know (eg. Last Lectures) always the 2, whether genetics and morphology or etc., but never what Blake accused WW of, the atheism of the world of nature.  Part of his quarrel with this age is its putting an a- before everything.  Take that out as irrelevant & what have you got? Charles suckered everybody into the idea he cared about what the world thought, but by his life, the choices he made, willy nilly even, you know he didn’t really.  He was driven surely to & by another outcome.  In the end, although Bob’s Olson is more mainstream he doesn’t enter the mainstream.  That’s the paradox.  You both may think “my” Olson is off the wall, but I’ll bet it will bring him in faster than trying to do it the other way, though it may take awhile (usually at least 100 yrs).  Otherwise, this is all just a fight to see who the anthologies and schools will proclaim the successor to Pound & WCW.  My Olson is not in that line, but in the Homer-Hesiod-Dante line, but bigger obviously (& not because of God or the gods etc.) – when does 1-A get him home, when the public works dept. changes the road, not likely.  Only if you make, like Seymour Knox, money, do you get yr own road home (route 400 it’s called).  Yet we do demand it, for all.  Otherwise we’re asking Charles to accept the way it was, Route 128 or whatever, when it ain’t, which we all know.  enuf.  Oh, that Vedic thing, that wasn’t scholarship, only common sense, I thought, because we were 120 AD not BC, & Charles had paired the Arabs & Norse in the CofS, “Veda than” is way back, unless you stress the than, or late Buddhist perhaps???  Nothing since sense.  Signing off, JACK.


[1] Tom Clark.    
[2] Tom Disch, primarily known as a sci-fi author, wrote a review of Clark’s book in which he dismissed Olson as a power hungry, manipulative, cult leader using Clark’s portrait of the poet. His review of Clark’s book first appeared as “Iambic Megalomania” in the Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1991. It was reprinted as “The High Priest of High Times” in The Castle of Indolence, NY: Picador USA, 1996.   
[3] Gerrit Lansing.   
[4] Fielding Dawson, also referred to as “Fee.”    
[5]  A local Buffalo figure involved in the poetry and music scenes.   
[6] William Sylvester, a poet and scholar at SUNY Buffalo.   
[7] Albert Cook. Cook was a poet and classicist. He was the first Chair of the new English Department at SUNY Buffalo from 1963-1966 and was responsible for hiring a number of literary luminaries, including Charles Olson,  Lionel Abel, John Barth, Robert Creeley, Carl Dennis, Irving Feldman, Leslie Fiedler, Dorothy Van Ghent, Mac Hammond, Norman Holland, John Logan, and Bill Sylvester. He published a review critical of Clark’s book and Disch’s use of it.   
[8] The Charles Olson Memorial Lectures were held annually from 1979 to 1989. Robert Duncan, 1979; Michael McClure, 1980; Ed Dorn, 1981; Joel Oppenheimer, 1982; Ed Sanders, 1983; Philip Whalen, 1984; Diane Di Prima, 1985; Tom Clark, 1986; Robin Blaser, 1987; Allen Ginsberg, 1988; Duncan McNaughton, 1989. Duncan McNaughton’s final lectures were a kind of dull parody of lectures designed to shame McNaughton’s friends and announce his allegiance to Robert Creeley in the argument over Tom Clark’s biography of Olson.   
[9] John Wieners and Pana Grady.