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Guest Review: Page On Clark

Jocelyn Page reviews Dis ease and De sire by Kim Clark

Clark’s title and two well-chosen epigraphs (the relevance of a third epigraph referring to Facebook statuses eluded this reviewer’s grasp) suggest an authorized nose into her situation, a signpost of permission to approach the topic and the text with an open, inquisitive regard.  And much in ‘Dis ease and De sire’ is informed by or otherwise relates to Clark’s disease, multiple sclerosis.  Many poets write of their own illnesses in subtle, effective ways, for one example Jo Shapcott who, in her latest collection ‘Of Mutability’ avoids naming the cancer that fuels the poetry.  Clark , however, opts to include a fair amount of reference to MS, including some description and terminology -  ‘wait, find my cane, no, I’m fine, / weight between my shoulder blades’ (‘Lacuna’) and ‘words worth their weight / in myelin.’ (‘The Abduction’) However, ‘Dis ease and De sire’ feels far from a documentation of the illness and more a manifesto for Clark’s life with MS that, at its best, celebrates through the gusto of life experiences -

    Want to lick salt 

from delectable hollow in the flesh

between thumb and finger on my one good hand,

to toss back tequila, brace the heel of my boot

against the dim-lit bar rail, hip-cocked

and sexy.  Savour the bite,

the zing, the punch of lime,

the slow heat down my throat’   (Nerve)

Clark’s publisher, Lipstick Press describes the collection as ‘a literary vivisection of a particular life displayed without pity.’  Indeed, the ‘zing’ of the author’s memory is precisely what highlights the disease, in opposition.  The desires, sensual (‘Girl on a Mango’) and sexual (‘Night bloom’) are all the more powerful for their understood diminishment due to illness, but they are also championed for their own sake throughout the text.

Clark’s freedom with experimentation in terms of layout on page (‘Flirting absolutely’ and ‘Girl on a Mango’) and lineation (‘Untitled’, p.5) feel an appropriate manifestation of raw emotion perhaps driven by disease and desire.  Syntactically, much of the collection feels truncated, staccato, deprived of exactly the lyric that one might expect from such a heartfelt manifesto.  Or is Clark’s desired effect a holding of the breath, a tight-lipped study of her ‘particular life’?  There are areas that could benefit from more critical editing, such as the final, tautological line in ‘Night bloom’ -‘savour brief thrill / of sensation / arousal’ and some puzzling punctuation choices, with a marked over-usage of the bracket [ ] and several baffling tildes ~ that complicate rather than add to the work.  Three ‘Untitled’ poems out of nineteen in the pamphlet seems a product of haste or oversight rather than design.

But these editing issues disappoint rather than detract from the overall impact of Clark’s voice.  Like a child, I want to ask those tricky questions after reading ‘Dis ease and De sire’.  I want to go from text to biography and learn more about the woman who drives these themes forward. 

Jocelyn Page is a poet from Connecticut living in Southeast London. Her pamphlet smithereens was published by tall-lighthouse in 2010. Her poetry has also appeared in Poetry Review, Smiths Knoll, The Rialto and Magma. She teaches English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College.
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