David Clarke was born in Lincolnshire and now lives in Gloucestershire. He works as a teacher and researcher. His poems have appeared in magazines including Magma, Tears in the Fence, Iota, Anon, Under the Radar and New Walk. His pamphlet, Gaud, was published by Flarestack Poets in 2012 and won the Michael Marks Pamphlet Prize. Arc (Nine Arches Press) is his first full collection of poems. He blogs here.
Orpheus wants two Americanos.
His mate is impatient on double yellows
in the van where they keep the harp,
rapping the roof with his knuckles.
Our godly axeman flashes a victory V,
thus drives home the point
of the goth girl’s pen
tracing cutely bulbous capitals
on her yellow pad, endlessly redrafting
a PERSONAL STATEMENT
as she chews on a hank of purple hair
that curtains the puffy eyes
of the barista. He slouches,
hung-over, to the steam machine
with a face full of shrapnel,
stomach turning at that burnt
milk smell of hot babies
screaming in 4x4s. Half-bald pigeons,
cyclists in eye-watering Lycra,
the whole ragged street tensed
beyond the café windows
waiting for Orpheus to swing
back into his van and strike
the morning’s opening chord.
Sword-Swallowing for Beginners
Start by flicking the fleshy switch at the back
of your throat. When you’ve thrown up a dozen times,
you’ll find the impulse subsides – you can sit for hours
with a knuckle softly pressed inside your head,
watching rolling news of the war. Insert spoons,
knitting needles, a length of plumber’s pipe.
Stare at the ceiling, your jaw loose as a gorging
python’s, and try to conjure those shocks that pass
through the body, but leave it intact – the rasp of panicked
breath, the whump of a nearby explosion, a scream.
Or think of the soldier who coughed up a sleeping bullet,
shrapnel burrowing out of a human thigh
to freedom. By then you’ll be ready to take a blunted
bayonet, silver and slick with spit. Arrange
your body around that deathly spindle,
repeat to yourself – I am unharmed. Unharmed.
We find ourselves on a marbled concourse,
the air tart, the thievery elegant.
We find ourselves flailing in cataracts of red dust,
our ears ringing at the pitch of the aftershock.
We find ourselves quarantined in the media compound,
living off shrink-wrapped carbs.
We find ourselves nodding to the security detail,
the exact nature of their remit.
We find ourselves lobbying for hearts and minds,
drumming our fingers on the conference table’s
We find ourselves offering flexible consultancy options,
straightening our zany neck-ties.
We find ourselves schmoozing the policy-wonks,
a post-traumatic pastoral.
ExodusGay Pride Festival, Clapham Common, 1996
I remember, chiefly, that shocking light,
how we squinted up from the earth,
bleached by the very summer that floored us –
how through that light emerged those thin-armed
boys from my class, proclaiming themselves
the heralds of memory, even that one
I’d hit for calling me queer. Now
our lustrous presence was all the proof
required. We sucked at cans of Red Stripe,
lounged in glare like exiles thrown
on a luminous shore, scuffing at it,
heel by heel, until the dust
threw up another move. Come
to think, we already had the people
we needed – hawkers of ironic
T-shirts and merchants of the old
religion, saving us all in brand new
drag. But then someone was grabbing
the mic. A thousand balloons cut loose
from their net, a pulsing vermilion
arc, while men made little huddles
of grief in twos and threes, their faces
tight with fat and beautiful tears.
I stalked to the edge of the crowd, chippy
as some lad who just missed out
on the war. A whole new country was set
before me, refusing to be ignored.
More information about Arc here
Order your copy of Arc here
David Clarke’s debut collection Arc invites you to follow the trail of fleet-footed poems, and be swept along from sonnets for Scott Walker to ‘epic fails’ and sword-swallowing for beginners. It’s a memorable trip you’ll want to start afresh as soon as you finish reading. Subtle, bittersweet and wickedly sharp, these poems from the winner of the 2013 Michael Marks Pamphlet Prize deserve to be relished and revelled in.
Praise for Arc by David Clarke:
‘“I am the boy who threw the ball / into summer’s empty mouth.” So begins David Clarke’s beautifully-crafted debut. His refined and elegantly playful poems mine popular and classical culture with equal aplomb, as poems about Jimmy Stewart and Superman sit alongside an Orpheus who “wants two Americanos” and an exploration of Plato’s ideas on cake. Here is a subtle control of form, a distinctive voice, a lightly-worn erudition and a feeling that we are in very safe hands, as Clarke sings in praise of this ‘Dumb old world.’ In a time of permanent emergency, there are few better navigators. Just as in ‘The Messengers,’ Clarke laments the fact that we do not hear the angels crying, so I want to say Listen. Listen to this.’ – Jonathan Edwards
‘Lenin sheds reactionary tears in the music hall, Scott Walker starts over with ‘only [his] voice and the dark’, a narrator finds the promise of a ‘whole new country’ in a Gay Pride Festival; there are poems about sword swallowing, Jimmy Stewart, assembling a greenhouse, and revolution. Arc is a various, exciting and exhilarating debut collection. David Clarke has a knack for writing lines that take your breath away.’ – Cliff Yates
‘This is an energetic debut and a thoroughly engaging read. At times explosive in imagery and theme, the tenor of discord, both personal and political, flowers through a skillful sobriety of form and theme. Arc contains poems in which the language of the world is returned to us with a lyric excitement. It’s a pleasure to read work as engaged and intelligent as this.’ – Rachael Boast