'Hazard Response' "No one should be writing poetry/In times like these, Dear Reader," writes Tom Clark in this selection from Light and Shade: New and Selected Poems.
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'Hazard Response'


Poet Billy Collins calls Tom Clark "the lyric imp of American poetry, [who] has delivered many decades' worth of goofy, melancholic, cosmic, playful, and wiggy poems." A former editor of the Paris Review, Clark has also written critical biographies of Jack Kerouac and Charles Olson. He lives in Berkeley.

To mark National Poetry Month, NPR.org is featuring a series of newly published works selected by the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about this and other titles at the academy's New Spring Books list.

Hazard Response

Tom Clark

As in that grey exurban wasteland in Gatsby

When the white sky darkens over the city

Of ashes, far from the once happy valley,

This daze spreads across the blank faces

Of the inhabitants, suddenly deprived

Of the kingdom's original promised gift.

Did I say kingdom when I meant place

Of worship? Original when I meant

Damaged in handling? Promised when

I meant stolen? Gift when I meant

Trick? Inhabitants when I meant slaves?

Slaves when I meant clowns

Who have wandered into test sites? Test

Sites when I meant contagious hospitals?

Contagious hospitals when I meant clouds

Of laughing gas? Laughing gas

When I meant tears? No, it's true,

No one should be writing poetry

In times like these, Dear Reader,

I don't have to tell you of all people why.

It's as apparent as an attempted

Punch in the eye that actually

Catches only empty air — which is

The inside of your head, where

The green ritual sanction

Of the poem has been cancelled.


From Light and Shade by Tom Clark. Copyright 2006 by Tom Clark. Published by Coffee House Press. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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