Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile

Episode 90: Je Recuse! The Poems of Charlie Clark

May 25, 2021

This episode is all about craft and connections:  literary craft and professional connections. In the notoriously small world of poetry and creative writing, should editors recuse themselves from making editorial decisions? Things get wonderfully complicated when you know a poet— be it from grad school, from a workshop, from a conference. Or from dressing up in potentially crass Halloween costumes. (Listen for further confirmation that Jason and Kathy are soul mates via their 90s -era matching Princess Diana getups, complete with steering wheel as accessory and pals playing paparazzi). In addition to the nuances of professional ethics in poetry land, we talk sonnets and the divided self as we discuss 2 poems by Charlie Clark. Clark’s archive of references ranges widely—from Death Grips to inept gladiators to the power of grammar and etymology to charm readers. At one point we’re making rock n’ roll hand gestures to indicate his poem’s caesuras; at another we’re mesmerized by the way Clark works within the confines of  14 lines right under our noses. If you like what you hear, Clark’s new book of poetry The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin will be published by Four Way Books later this year.


At the table:

Samantha Neugebauer, Jason Schneiderman, Alex Tunney, Kathleen, and Marion Wrenn


This episode is brought to you by one of our sponsors, Wilbur Records, who kindly introduced us to the artist is A.M.Mills whose song “Spaghetti with Lorraine” now opens our show. 


Charlie Clark studied poetry at the University of Maryland. His work has appeared in New England Review, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, and other journals. A 2019 NEA fellow, he is the author of The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2020). He lives in Austin, TX.


You can find him on Facebook.


The Beast I Worship



I light my torch and burn it.

I am the beast I worship.

—Death Grips, “Beware”



The beast I worship doesn’t blame


the tree for its lithe, expanding


glamour, yet beneath a sky full of blue


kingfishers crying tears from the tree


the placard with its Latin name


laid out in a lush calligraphy


and as many as he can reach


of the narrow green articulations of spring


starting to feel their way into the air;


before he finally takes leave completely,


the beast I worship climbs in and sets the whole thing


burning down. The beast I worship


offers meek relief. What sometimes feels like


beauty sometimes feels like grief.



Address To That Inept Gladiator Timorous



  1. Supposing the Futility of Language as a Means of Protecting Oneself from Harm



Your armor amounts to the skin of some very large dead beasts,


yet you retain such glamour. If you don’t know the word,


that’s because the Scots hadn’t yet invented it. There wasn’t enough


enchanting mist strewn on even a rainy Roman summer morn


to veil the parts your opponent hoped to hack from you. Had there been,


had a cloud become the air around you, had you survived and done it in this way,


had the poets seen this and gone crazy, probably you still would have been


stuffed back into your cage, fed no more gruel than usual by the mulch-


hearted man who ran the place before next week’s show where he’d charge double


for all the people eager to see some new brute cut your meek gray swarm in two.


Pardon, please, these aimless suppositions. Did you know glamour


is only a corruption of grammar ? This proves nothing but the impossibility


of any word’s use to the dead. No word will build a door out of air


and let you step safely through it before it grammars shut.



  1. Concerning the Awfulness of Audiences Across Time



Should you somehow fast-forward through millennia, it would likely be


the sons of paper-product scions laughing at your harm. They will be no less noxious


than whoever watches you now. before I waste our time trying to explain the value


of flowered vines embroidered on what people wipe up grape-juice spills and urine with,


let me just call them rags. It is a sound so plain I hope it makes sense no matter what


the tongue or age. It’s rags the audience throws at you, not that they want to offer salves


or congratulations; they simply want to throw things at you and rags are the cheapest thing


on hand. Were I to acknowledge that the word audience existed in your tongue,


what would that matter, except for how it meant something more like listening then,


which means irony existed then too, as some hack-eared opponent hollowed out your mouth


and to slow the bleeding you filled it with the audience’s rags, the loosened red thread-ends


of some drifting in the wind from your mouth toward the lords drunk at center court,


who hear only their own voices naming which next portions of your body they have


paid good money to see your rivals cleave?



  1. Cataloging Some of what Awaits Him After the Morning’s Dogs Are Done



Heaven is an archive full of friends


whose legs have been restored. You can walk


with them through the ever-longing haze and regather


the other parts both they and you had scattered,


heads and brains and arms and tongues and eyes,


the eyes most especially, because there is so much


now that you are out of the arena’s daily dust and blight,


out of the darkness of its catacombs; there is so much now


for you to gaze at, it is worth acknowledging


the Norseman who would, drunk at sea some mist-


decked century hence, invent the verb to gaze as a variant


of to gape, what does not describe a wound exactly


but does suggest a body breached as well as it does awe,


which in this heaven’s tongue is infinite.

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