Saturday, November 22, 2008
I’ve been a fan of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner for umpteen years—in all seriousness, I may have watched this film more than any other. I had the original theatrical version on VHS—the one with the hard-boiled voice-over—& then picked up the director’s cut when that came out (must be around 20 years ago?), which was even better. I loved pretty much everything about Blade Runner—the setting, the pace, the plot, the characters, the performances. I’m also a fan of the Phillip K. Dick novel on which the film was loosely based, the book with the impossibly evocative title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?(the Blade Runner term actually was taken from a unrelated work by Alan S. Nourse).
But what does all this have to do with our weekly poem feature? It turns out that poet Tom Clark, a fellow whose work I’ve admired for quite some time, wrote a poem based on the movie’s climactic scene in which android hunter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) confronts renegade android Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) on a rooftop in about the slimiest coldest rainfall ever filmed. The film & the Dick novel both explore the question of what it means to possess a subjective reality, even if the entity possessing this subjectivity is “made,” not “born.” Linked to this examination of subjectivity is an examination of mortality—as it should be, since subjectivity (not only the ability to perceive in an individual way, but the ability to recall those perceptions thru memory), not physical essence, is precisely what’s lost thru mortality; & these subjects are also the force behind Clark’s poem “Final Farewell.”
Clark was born in Chicago in 1941. He’s published over 40 books of poetry in a career that dates back to the mid 60s; in addition, he’s published over a dozen biographies, several books of non-fiction, a three-act play, & two novels & two collections of short stories. In between, he also was poetry editor of The Paris Review from 1963-1973, & taught at the New College of California. Clark has been associated with a rather diverse bunch of literary folk, ranging from beat poet Allen Ginsberg to British poet/mythographer Robert Graves. His poetic style tends toward the colloquial—he makes fine use (in my opinion) of slang & everyday speech in his poetry, often mixing this with somewhat more elevated language to nice effect. Clark also has the distinction of being a true baseball fan—he’s written a number of poems about various major league baseball players (always a plus in my book). I’m particularly fond of a four poem sequence he wrote titled “You”—I’ve only seen this is a rather obscure anthology titled English & American Surrealist Poetry (Penguin: 1978). Sadly, in doing research for this piece, I discovered that Clark & his wife Angelica have fallen on hard times—you can read more about this, as well as about efforts to help, here.
For those of you who haven’t seen Blade Runner & would like to, I should warn you that Clark’s poem might be seen as a spoiler—for everyone else, hope you enjoy it.
Great moment in Blade Runner where Roy
Batty is expiring, and talks about how everything
he’s seen will die with him—
ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion
sea-beams glittering before the Tannhauser gates.
Memory is like molten gold
burning its way through the skin
It stops there.
There is no transfer
Nothing I have seen
will be remembered
That merciful cleaning
of the windows of creation
will be an excellent thing
my interests notwithstanding.
But then again I’ve never been
near Orion, or the Tannhauser gates,
I’ve only been here.
© Tom Clark 1987