Tom Clark- Junkets on a sad planet

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Tom Clark- Junkets on a sad planet

Postby Raphael » Sat Jan 02, 2010 3:13 pm

Hello Broken Lyre and Malia! :D
Malia you asked if anyone else has this book- well I do. - I got it 2 weeks ago from Amazon. It’s now a treasured addition to my growing Keatsian book collection! I find it quite unique.I thought I'd start a thread for this book, so it'll not get lost in the ramblings one...

I gave that copy away to an acquaintance of mine--mainly, I think, because the life mask on the cover of the book kind of creeped me out. (I was a little "nervy" back then, and things like life masks and death masks kind of gave me the willies. Malia.

I love the life mask of our dear Junkets- It doesn’t unnerve me at all- I think he looks so magical and sensitive; Haydon caught his expressive beautiful face so well! From a modern woman’s perspective John Keats would be found as beautiful today as he was back then. I find the death mask hard to look at though due to the suffering etched on it.

I can understand why you have had an emotional time with these poems--they are most of them fairly "heavy duty"; not a lot of cheer here! LOL But, Keats did live the life of a tragic hero and Clark really delves into the tragedy.

I think that is the theme Tom Clark wanted to go with- the title of his book indicates that, but I would have liked some more scenes of the happy times in John’s life- as we know he did have them (he had a great sense of humour and wasn’t constantly morose, which to an unfamiliar reader this book would give that impression). Well Tom has included some like Sideral Study and Debut. But mostly he has concentrated on all the sadness. For me it would have felt more balanced a window into John’s world. Despite that though, I think the book is very well written. I do have some more criticisms (not meant in a mean way though), but more of that later…

I wish Tom had included Haydon’s “Immortal Dinner” and some of the gatherings John wrote about his letters in which he was having fun. Oh to have been at that Immortal Dinner! It must have been hilarious- and wouldn’t you just LOVE to have seen John Keats laughing uproariously?

I really like Sideral Study:

“courting the genius of language and the genius loci..”

That evokes the special genius of our dear poet- the union of his use of words and his communion with nature (genius loci being the spirit of place).

“knowing that here in the universe the evening is still young, there are still not enough stars.”

It prefigures “Bright Star” for me, and also he himself could be a bright star- not long for the Earth, a luminary who would live on, though he despaired that it would never be so.

I think Experience (36) is good – describing his love of nectarines and how he takes notice of everything around him. Tom captures him so well; he obviously has read his letters through and through.

…Clark was trying to speak not just "about" Keats but "for" Keats. In a sense he was channelling Keats (a bit overstated of course) - and his sympathetic identification with Keats's life and poetry is what comes through. I appreciate Clark's deep empathy with Keats's situation in many of his poems because it resonates so well with how I can feel.Broken Lyre

I did feel too, that Tom has a great sympathy for John- I wonder if having the same name as his brother is in some way meaningful to him? He has written a lot about Tom in the book. Quietness II is especially good.

On page 33 "Quietness" Clark writes a bio about Keats's relationship with his mother, and the power and intensity are palpable partly because it is written in first person, and partly because out of the 20 lines, 19 of them are in one sentence. This gives it a heavy, long-drawn out feel - which reflects the situation with Keats and his mother's own death which he attended to.
Broken Lyre

I find this one quite remarkable in the intensity- it really does feel as though John could have written that- the use of lots of dashes used just like he used in his letters. The way he is seeing his mother’s illness and death as a ghost story or tragedy- there are echoes of Isabella and Lamia in here. I think the best of his work came from deep within his own experiences which he wove around the mythologies that he read. Perhaps his poems were somehow a way for him to let go of some grief?

Furthermore, a number of lines are proleptic in that they apply not only to his mother's grave situation of abandonment and suffering, but also of Keats's own abandonment and suffering in Rome.
Clark writes:
"My mother fell into a consumption.....a cool cloth wiped away the tangles strands of grimy hair that fell across her fevered brow...coiling in her pain upon the drenched bedsheets..."
Much the same was written about Keats by Joseph Severn and moreover, Keats's cooking and reading to his mother as she lay dying were also replayed by Severn for Keats as he lay dying. I just find this sadly moving and beautifully told in a uniquely powerful way. To add to the proleptic nature of this poem, it should be noted that it is only the 5th poem in the book! So it is anticipatory of what is to come. The theme of tragedy has already been struck.
Broken Lyre.

I think John himself was well aware of this; perhaps this was one of the things he spoke to Joseph about (as you probably remember reading Joseph wrote that John had spoke of things to him and he had felt some relief for doing so). I get the impression at times, that John felt like he was living (and replaying) some great tragedy. Which in a way, was true- certainly his fate was a great tragedy and loss to many.

I must admit I was rather baffled though by Possession on page 34.

“…what he would give to have her back-
His life, and the sexual form in which it possessed him.”

Is this some kind of Freudian thing or does it refer to the passionate nature of John, in which some biographers think he got from his mother? That she too had this passionate nature? If it’s the Freudian thing, that’s one view I don’t share and is a criticism of mine, for nowhere do I feel this kind of feeling was shown to be true of him and his mother. But the later poem Misfortunes (147) feels quite real, in that he could later on understand his mother’s reasons for marrying Rawlings. It’s very moving.

By page 104 in "Phosphorescence," Clark has Keats saying during his Nightingale experience that the:

"Invisible bird has built its nest in
Brown's garden like the bearer of a singing
Telegram arriving this forward spring

From a future I am not fated to be in..."

Somehow, I just hear John Keats in this poem and I think Clark has caught some of the spirit of Keats.

Yes, that got me too- he wrote that in one of his letters about it not being his fate to be in the future. I think it was to Brown or Fanny- when I find it I’ll let you know.

By page 127 "Laudanum" I have come to my favourite poem in this book. Yes it borrows heavily from Autumn and plays with Keats's own words.

It’s well written, but being a picky Brit I noticed he used the word “bugs” and us British say “insects”. Tom also uses the word “fall” rather than the British Autumn! Sorry to be picky, but it makes it less Keatsian for me.

Nevertheless, the whole effect of the book does have the feel of an extension of the letters he wrote.

I particularly like Debut (46-7). The sense of John’s character and appearance is delightful:

“His mute gaze alert as a forest creature’s
A hungry eaglet fixity in his eyes.

Light auburn curls flaring up like softest plumage
In the gently stirring twilight breeze,
Rapt, anxious, lost in anticipation,
Hushed as if approaching some ancient sacrifice.”


“Keeping himself apart, modestly infatuated, Keats sat
Crosslegged in a chair, stoked his instep, was curious,
Now and then put in some quiet remark,
Indulged Hunt’s presumption in calling him Junkets,

Soon won everyone over- as the hours “Ere the morn
Of Truth wore on, fitting into the scene like a delightful
Pocket charm, a miniature gem surrounded
In its setting by the prior luminaries of those hours...”

I can just see him, with his shoes off, his gorgeous bright hazel eyes lit up with excitement, stroking his foot as he listens and every so often says something insightful to the others who start to realise just who they have in the midst- a magical new young genius! The description of him as a “charm” and “gem” is charmingly affectionate, and conveys his worth.

And at the end he “walks on air” “drunk with delight, under Lyra’s frosty autumn stars.” Clark despite being taller struggles to keep up with the energetic John, who is elated at this new beginning in his life, where he has been accepted and feels a sense of having found his vocation in life- he is a poet. How important a night this must have been for him!

There are more I’d like to comment on, but I’m saving those for our Keats Circle letters- I think they might get some interesting discussions going amongst our Circle. I will photocopy them, with my comments and then they can go around and we can add to them.

(And this post is long enough as it is!) did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Re: Tom Clark- Junkets on a sad planet

Postby BrokenLyre » Sat Jan 02, 2010 8:08 pm

Thanks for your thoughts Raphael. I always enjoy seeing Keats as he is refracted through the lens of others. In this case through Tom Clark and you're responses. I do think that Clark focuses on a slice of Keats' life - the difficult part inexorably moving toward the end of his life. But that he does it so uniquely well, I find is astonishing. You have to read Clark a few times to fully absorb his pathos, I think. In a sense Clark is holding out his hand towards the reader and it certainly feels like Keats' "This Living Hand" with a twist.
Glad others can appreciate this book.

What other writer has so stepped into Keats' heart and mind that he sounds both like Keats and like a sympathetic friend at the same time?
"Come... dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes... and let's go home."
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Re: Tom Clark- Junkets on a sad planet

Postby Raphael » Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:30 pm

BrokenLyre wrote:What other writer has so stepped into Keats' heart and mind that he sounds both like Keats and like a sympathetic friend at the same time?

In a non fiction sense I haven't come across anyone yet, But Guy Murchie's bio has a lot of affection! did not live to see-
who we are because of what you left,
what it is we are in what we make of you.

Peter Sanson, 1995.
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Posts: 1845
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2009 6:10 pm
Location: wandering Keats' poetry

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