Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jim Clark's One-Man Show Comes to Town

“Musings” for December 31


The word “miscellany” means “a mixed assortment of items.” Few writers can claim to have ever compiled such an assortment of their own work simply because few have the diversity of talent to produce work across a range of genres. Typically, poets write poetry; fiction writers write fiction; scholars write scholarship; and while writers might take an occasional dip into the neighbor’s pool, they tend to return to their own familiar waters pretty quickly.

Jim Clark, of Wilson, NC, is one of the few. Clark is a professor of Southern Literature at Barton College. He is also a musician, a poet, a short story writer, and a playwright. His 2007 book, Notions, includes poetry, fiction, memoir, criticism, history, a one-act play, and just for good measure, a cd of Clark’s music.

Not surprisingly given his range of interest and ability, Clark’s best work occurs when he blends genres. “Circles of Influence,” for example is both memoir and criticism as Clark traces his own development as a writer in a thoughtful revelation of the themes, personality and career of Byron Herbert Reece. Similarly, he updates the tradition of the folktale in “Moody,” a hilarious story of down home cleverness involving the disappointed aspirations of a would-be snake handler, preacher, and lover.

And he blends history, folktale, and verse in the poem “Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew,” reprinted below.

Clark will visit Hickory on January 12 to read from his work at Poetry Hickory, starting at 6:30 PM at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. The evening will begin with an Open Mic, followed by Clark and fellow featured writer, Linda Annas Ferguson.

Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew
by Jim Clark

I’m the one they won’t tell about,
barn burner, horse thief, cheat.
In the hills of Corbin County, near
the Kentucky line, in the curve
of Horseshoe Bend, I carried
fifty-pound bags of sugar and corn
to my daddy’s still when I was ten.

I stirred the mash and kept cold
the water that cooled the worm,
and clapped my hands at the first
clear drop that clung from copper,
then fell into the waiting jug.
Underneath the chestnut tree
my daddy snored, drunk on profit.

When I was seventeen I asked
Abigail Simpson to be my wife.
Yes, she said, but hadn’t reckoned
on her Pa’s tight-lipped No, sudden
and final as a shotgun blast. That night
I sloshed kerosene on stable floor hay
of his new barn, struck the match
and held it, eye level, till the flame
licked my fingers, then dropped it.

I lit out for Tompkinsville, and there
lived for five loose and lawless years,
vowing never to ask another man
permission of what I wanted.
And what I wanted I took and people
all along those Cumberland ridges
gave me wide berth, and a name--
Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew.

Then war came, and fire and death
and thievery marched the valleys,
a smoky cloak of pestilence hugging
the ridges I rode. Under cover
of a uniform, gray, with a little box
of a hat, I robbed and killed and burned
my way back to Corbin County.

When they slapped the horse’s rump,
and I felt the stiff hemp bite
into my neck, I danced above the earth
and watched the smoke plait and curl
from the ashes of Jess Simpson’s barn.


  1. man, really hope i can make it. might have to skip the thesis readings at Queens!

  2. My apologies to all for having to cancel. I had a severe case of bronchitis and my doctor told me I should stay home. I hope to make it over to Hickory again sometime.