George David Clark, a graduate of Union University’s class of 2005 and assistant professor of creative writing and literature at Washington & Jefferson College, gave a poetry reading to a large crowd gathered in Harvey Auditorium on Thursday as part of the English Department’s 24th annual Creative Writing Workshop for West Tennessee high school students.
As the constant downpour of rain hummed in the background, Clark reflected on his experience studying at Union and shared poems from his book Reveille, which won the Miller Williams Poetry Prize from the University of Arkansas Press. Clark mentioned Bobby Rogers, English professor and writer in residence at Union, as a particular positive influence during his undergraduate years. He related one moment in particular, when Rogers skipped a faculty meeting because of an interest in one of Clark’s poems, as a significant gesture during a confusing time in Clark’s life, a time during which when he even considered becoming a truck driver.
Clark said the inspiration for Reveille came from the months just after his marriage, when his wife’s morphine treatment after surgery to remove a cyst kept her asleep for up to 20 hours per day. Clark envisioned crafting a reveille, a soldier’s bugle call, “Poems that might call my wife back to life.”
The fluctuating drone of the rain outside set an appropriate backdrop for Clark’s poetry, whose lines were built on swirling images and emotions, spiritual allusions, “the inscrutable curios of angels” and longings for “yestermorrow.” Clark punctuated his poetry with light-hearted comments on the superiority of poetry readings to speed-dating, building a rapport with his audience that paid dividends when he shared “an off-color poem” about the aftermath of making love to his wife, in which the bedroom is intruded first by birds, then the couple’s children, neighbors and even a mailman. It was a light, absurdist piece that drew loud laughter from the gathered audience.
Ashley Ellis, senior english major, said Clark’s reading was one of the better readings she had attended during her time at Union. She said seeing a Union alumnus was encouraging as she approaches postgrad life, but added that she was most impressed by Clark’s ability to recite from memory “without looking at his poems. That’s the first time I’ve seen someone do that.” Clark left his listeners with advice for aspiring writers in the room.
“To do this you have to be really arrogant but really humble at the same time,” Clark said. “Arrogant enough to add one’s voice to the pantheon of poets but humble enough to continually seek to improve one’s craft.”