February 7, 2021

RIPE FOR LIFE:

Keeping Poets Alive: Why You Should Know About Jack Clemo (LUCY, JUNE 4, 2014, Tolstoy Therapy)

When first exploring Clemo's work, you'll notice that the rugged Cornish landscape is often at its forefront. Clemo's father was a clay-kiln worker, and his scenes of the Clay Country frequently symbolise mystical and religious experiences (a factor no doubt influenced by his religious upbringing). We witness scenes of the expanding clay industry overcoming nature, yet, Clemo reminds us, surely nature will eventually fight back.

These white crags
Cup waves that rub more greedily
Now half-way up the chasm; you see
Doomed foliage hang like rags;
The whole clay-belly sags.
- The Flooded Clay-Pit

One of the poems which stood out to me, largely for its intertextuality, is "William Blake Notes a Demonstration". Putting a frightening spin on Blake's "Jerusalum", and slightly mirroring modern apocalyptic fears, Clemo illustrates Blake as witness of a hellish 20th century London:

Where's my Jerusalem? That future London
I see in visions now I am near death,
Is not the Holy city: harlots abound
In street, school and pulpit,And the winding-sheet seems made of protest banners.

In the poem, these "protest banners" are held by anti-nuclear demonstrators, which prompts Blake - as speaker - to build on what Heather R. Martin calls Clemo's "raw and unapologetically religious" writing (109):

If men can't die praising God
They're not ripe for life, not fit
To protest against the means of exit.

After reading this, you may well see how Clemo's Evangelical non-conformist views placed him at the margins, away from Britain's general readership.

Rick Stein discusses him on his latest series.



Posted by at February 7, 2021 6:47 PM

  

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