Welcome to 2018 — and to Partisan Review as the year turns from 1938-1939. In both years we see war on the horizon, fear running through the veins of just about everyone, and a difficult but brave attempt by some to explain how this came to be.
Today’s post is about a poet, Clark Mills, who I only learned of when I turned the page from Silone’s “School of Dictators,” to “The Beggars”, of Vol. 6,No 1, Fall, 1938.
Clark Mills’s contribution to the issue is a poem from and about Paris; about the state of poverty and dismay and exhaustion and malaise of the moment, and the moment’s personae: the beggars foraging around the ‘Place Edmond Rostand.’ Here: read it.
The spring awakening of the beggars who had retreated into their cold bodies during the winter is not as easily won as we might have expected. One, “lost in great sculptural folds of rotten cloth/ one sang, sang out with the crazy abandon of a bird of summer’s topmost branch — while all the others/ mistrust the season’s golden promise”. The natural release of Spring overhangs a darker crazed tension. Spring can’t be disengaged from those wintry horizons which ‘outstretched past and future.’
So, who was Clark Mills? Its hard to find an image of him on the internet — here is the best I found — and there hasn’t been much written about him to my knowledge, but if you know different, please let me know.
Born Clark Mills McBurney in 1913, he became friends with Tennessee Williams, when Williams, then Tom, and a group of fairly like-minded young writers became a group hanging around The Old Courthouse near Washington University in St. Louis, and much of what I learned about him comes from books that are about Tennessee Williams.
Alleati Hale, in Tom Williams, Proletarian Playwright, writes:”The Old Courthouse was also a weekly meeting place for a group of unconventional students from Washington University who had joined the St. Louis Union of Artists and Writers. Among them, Clark Mills was revered as a published poet, active in the university’s chapter of the national College Poetry Society. Williams had belonged to the chapter at Missouri University and, hungry for contacts outside the factory, sought out the poets at Washington. Although shy, he went to a literary meeting where Clark Mills was pointed out as that student who writes “crazy modern verse nobody understands but God and himself!” Williams who had just had his own verse published in four literary magazines, was instantly attracted. Mills would become a prime influence for his next few years, introducing him to the poetry of Rilke, Rimbaud, and Hart Crane, who became Williams’ idol. Until then, his model had been the St. Louis poet, Sara Teasdale, or the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Clark Mills, surnamed McBurney, French scholar, poet and intellectual, had another side. His father was a freight agent for the Union Pacific Railroad and one sister, Adeline, was a social welfare worker.Through them he was aware of the youths, hoboes, and homeless now riding the rails through America, of the strikes going on in St. Louis and of such events as the parade of two thousand local unemployed that ended in a riot. Clark may have been one of those students who heard Jack Conroy [AJ: A prominent CP ‘proletarian writer’]speak at the University and was inspired by his revolutionary fervor to help form the local Artists and Writers Union. Although not an actual labor union, it was loosely affiliated with the national John Reed Clubs organized by Conroy [Remember that Partisan Review emerged from the CP John Reed Club — and by the by so did my dad, Henry who was in the Paterson New Jersey John Reed Club, and also graduated to reading Partisan Review]
SO readers, here we are ready, to think about the past and the dreadful now and the possible futures along with the Paris beggars in 1938.
Next week we’ll look at the ‘Manifesto’ by Andre Breton and Diego Rivera that opened the “This Quarter” section of this issue.