Alumnus wins Arkansas’ Miller Williams poetry prize

For many people, creative writing is only a hobby or a passing phase. For Union alumnus George David Clark, creative writing is an art that informs his life.

Clark graduated from Union in 2005. After completing his undergraduate degree, he went on to earn a master of fine arts from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. from Texas Tech University.

He now teaches English at Valparaiso University and recently won the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize for his poetry manuscript, “Interview Conducted Through the Man-Eater’s Throat.”

The Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize includes the publication of the winning manuscript and $5,000.

Clark has published many individual poems, but this will be his first published book.

“Of course the $5,000 is nothing to sneeze at,” Clark said. “But the real prize is the publication of the book by a press I admire.”

Bobby Rogers, professor of English, said this poetry competition is well respected throughout the country.

“The Miller Williams prize is one of the leading first-book prizes in America,” Rogers said. “The University of Arkansas is a well-respected creative writing program, and the University of Arkansas Press is a top publisher of poetry.”

Clark said organizers of the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize do not release the number of submissions but that comparable contests receive up to 1,000 submissions.

Clark began working on the poems in “Interview” during graduate school in 2007.

The process of creating those poems, however, began during his time at Union.

“There were small, partial successes (a good line, a good rhyme, an interesting syntax) in some of those first poems that I could build on,” Clark said. “My professors at Union, particularly Professor Rogers and Professor Malone, helped me identify what to discard and what to try again.”

Rogers was Clark’s adviser  during his time at Union.

“David was an excellent student, a fine fiction writer and literary critic, as well as a talented poet,” Rogers said. “David was always a serious writer.”

David Malone, acting chairman of the English department, also had Clark as a student and advised him on his honors thesis.

“David was always eager to find something new to read and to find new ways of writing,” Malone said. “It was really gratifying to have a student who was so enthusiastic about writing and reading contemporary literature.”

For Clark, poetry is an engaging form of language that is best described as an art.

“I’m drawn to the twisting and posing of language, the idea that the way a thing is said bears a significant portion of its meaning,” Clark said. “In lyric poetry, with its concision and freedom from narrative, the poet has a platform on which to make beautiful shapes out of language.”

Clark’s reception of this award indicates the high standard of the Union English department.

“I really do think that it reflects well on my colleagues and my department,” Malone said.

Malone and Rogers said that in addition to the high standard of the English department, the quality of students who attend Union to study English contributes to this kind of success.

“We get talented students, serious students, students who bring rich spiritual backgrounds to campus, students with stories to tell,” Rogers said. “Our English department prepares them for success in all fields of endeavor. But we’ve produced many excellent creative writers, and I expect us to keep doing so. Everyone in the English department is thrilled for David.”