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Just Buffalo Welcomes Poet Clark Coolidge to New Studio Series

On Friday, April 18, Just Buffalo Literary Center will present a poetry reading by Clark Coolidge, a writer who holds a singular place in American letters. This will be the first poetry reading that Just Buffalo has hosted in its STUDIO space on the second floor of 468 Washington Street.

The choice to kick off the new STUDIO series with Coolidge is in keeping with Just Buffalo’s nearly 40-year history of featuring a veritable Who’s Who of innovative poets. Though it has been nearly 15 years since Coolidge has read in Western New York, he is no stranger to Buffalo; his papers are housed in the Clark Coolidge Archive of UB’s Poetry Collection.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1939, Coolidge enrolled at Brown University but left after two years to hitchhike, Jack Kerouac-style, to the West Coast. A few years laters, he attended the now-historic 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference and 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference, where he met such luminaries as Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Philip Whalen. Shortly after, Coolidge also met Ted Berrigan, who gave him his first reading, as well as Bernadette Mayer, Philip Guston, and Tom Clark—all later collaborators.

His writing has been associated with various literary movements ranging from the New York School and the San Francisco Renaissance to Language poetry. In the end, Coolidge’s massive body of work resists any clear-cut categorization.

One of his first books, Space, was published by Harper and Row in 1970 with cover art by Jasper Johns. Ever since, Coolidge has published with a wide range of small presses—the poetic equivalent of choosing independent record labels over the corporate monoliths.

It is difficult to know which is more staggering: the list of 40-plus books that Coolidge published over the last five decades or the 28 manuscripts which remain still unpublished. Until recently, one of Coolidge’s most important books—arguably the most significant book of his career—lay unpublished before Fence Books produced A Book Beginning What an Ending Away (2012), which is described as a “missing treasure from one of the great ages of American experimental literature…an epic, durational, multiform text composed from 1973 to 1981.”

This tour-de-force, composed in 20 sections, opens with a meditation entitled “The Caves” and ends hundreds of pages later with a section entitled “Another Life.” Other sections are named for major influences: Beckett, Dalí, and, perhaps most interesting to local readers, section seven, which is named for Buffalo’s own poet-legend, the late Robert Creeley.

Just as Creeley’s poetics depended so much on breath, Coolidge’s writing begs to be read aloud. At the same time, phrases such as “Thought back words” (156) remind us that poetry must be read with ears and eyes and mind all triggered and triggering simultaneously, the eye seeing something other than what the ear hears, the words folding back on themselves even as they propel the reader forward to contemplate other words, different possibilities.

In his afterword, Tom Orange writes: “Clark Coolidge’s readers have been waiting for this book to arrive for decades…since the author’s legendary marathon readings from the manuscript that…astounded all who had the luck or foresight to attend creative history in the making…Coolidge was to abandon the project at around 600 pages; unfinished, untitled, unpublished and probably unpublishable. Until now” (577).

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.justbuffalo.org.

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