Clay Phoenix: A Biography of Jack Clemo Paperback – 1 Jun 2016
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The paedophilia suggestion might be put down to a rural isolation and Clemo’s need for feminine attentions, local children being the only ones to tolerate this awkward, cranky, disabled, burgeoning poet.
The solopistic nature, where all events have to somehow involve Clemo: no event too great or small, local events or World war Two. Pathetic! Clemo’s apparent near contempt towards many well-meaning, well-known literary figures, to say nothing of the ungratefulness of lesser-known, earnest evangelical facilitators, is hard to swallow.
Clemo moans in his diary entries about selling 500 copies of one of his books. Where’s the praise for the patient publishers from the nit-picking mystic? Where’s the praise for Charles Causley & Lionel Miskin? Where’s the opportunities for evangelical witness now? Any contemporary Christian poet would be ecstatic at such sales figures today! And yes, 2,000 copies of a couple of his books were also pulped - but that is merely modern book market reality. Clemo is hardly alone in that unfortunate and frustrating position.
His poetry was reviewed in TLS, Morning Star, The Times and many other culturally respectable, large circulation broadsheets, as well as in numerous overly-sympathetic Christian magazines. Lucky man! - but you never get the impression that God be blessed…
Clemo hopelessly harped on about getting healed from his blindness and deafness until 1978. Why such persistence? After much prayer in a variety of denminational settings, over many decades, surely it is pure folly to persist in such a (vain?) quest.
The author rightly points out Clemo’s over-reliance on writing poems that “blend events from biographies with personal events, biblical allusions, diverse poetic references and old clay symbols, while constructing a statement of his own uncommon beliefs and experiences.” It became a stylistic cliche, usually in an unsympathetic and contra-mundum way.
What particularly interested me was the troubling duality of victorious public Christian and poetic pronouncements set against private diary doubts. Yes, Christ does have the victory through all our ups and downs - but to me, this dual approach is biblically conflicting and indeed, misleading. Clemo, and his mother, and then his wife, seemingly frequently sought the Browning Pattern and schematically manipulated, nagging both God and man.
Regardless of the “clay feet” of Clemo, as evidenced in this critical literary biography, we are left amazed that Clemo was offered, and took on, so many opportunities, in such unpromising circumstances.
Who will be this book’s readers, outside of academic circles and some hard-core Clemo fans? The writing of this tome by Thompson, long-standing academic and spiritual sceptic, is an amazing testimony to Clemo’s tenacious Christian faith and still-enduring literary vision. God bless the brave publisher also!