Assuming you have read Clare’ s poetry and or some of his prose writing and appreciate what he is about. Assuming you know a reasonable amount of his career in print, with or without his time in asylums. And assuming you would like to get to real grips with his writing and functioning as a poet then I can only put forward Mina Gorji’s book as a vital read.
John Clare and the Place of Poetry, 978184631163 5 published by Liverpool University Press, hardback published in 2008 available via Amazon
This is not a specific review of the book, just a glowing response to it and a heavy suggestion that you read it.
The book is condensed writing but only 177 pages, including notes, bibliography and index, concentrating mainly on his published poetry. Every word shows John Clare emerging as a confidant and sophistcated poet aware of his world both in nature and the needs of his public. His place on the literary stage is described, examined and explained. He wrote poetry in a style he chose for himself, for the needs of his perceived public. Today it has resonance with that of Wordsworth and other poets of his day but has a vital and immediately personal feel to it that Wordworth can lack. ‘Poetry now’ versus ‘written in tranquility’, perhaps.
His knowledge of poetry around him and the mechanics of writing it was perhaps ultimately a problem for the niche he chose to publish from. Maybe his lack of confidence and sophistication, especially the former in public, caused his publishing career to fail. Maybe his mental state held him back too, to fail him later. Destiny, I suppose.
That which should be more widely read are his Nature Notes and prose. Here, his style may be as elemental but is even more true to his world of field, flower, wildlife images and sounds. His failings? Maybe that he wasnt quite able to grasp and build upon his initial success in print or with his literary peers. Opportuinites were there but like many before and after it was not his lot to prosper from initial success.
His poetry faded to a shadow but like many folk songs it was recalled and appreciated by experts and enthusiasts. Perhaps the Tibbles’ biography and selections were the first stirrings of re-recognition (certainly was for me). Over the years publishing has grown from small appearances of Clare in selected volumes, a couple more biographies and increasingly, Clare selections and complete volumes of poetry and prose. Clare has been included in university studies for some time and also A level exam boards.
What would he have made of this slow-burning survival and steady brightening of his flame? Who knows! Probably a great deal of satisfaction and maybe pride that his work, his life, was being read and that his emotion was being transferred into generations so far into his future. No doubt great sadness too, that it was so much too late to support the family of a village labourer, whose life was Nature, writing and finally, so many years in an asylum (albeit with an enlightened doctor).
I hope there will be a paperback edition one day but in the meantime buy this book or get it from the library.
If you like John Clare its a must!