The brief life of John Keats––the suffering of the immortal artist who dies young, whose glory is written in the stars and yet whose entry in the Book of Life is “writ in water”––is the stuff of Romantic myth. “Junkets on a Sad Planet,” writes Tom Clark in his notes on this remarkably original book, “is an extended reflection on the fable of the modern poet’s life as Keats lived it.” Written in a series of blank-verse poems interspersed with fictional “letters” by Keats and by members of his circle, the book may be read in turns as a poetic novel, a biography in verse, an allegorical masque, and a historical oratorio for several voices. Anyone who loves Keats’s poetry and letters will be stunned: “Clark captures the essence of the poet’s style and spirit in a minimum of elegant and haunting words” (Los Angeles Times).
While the collection is an impressive display of Clark’s ability to master many poetic voices, it is in the final section, a twelve-part deathbed (or after-death) reverie titled ‘Echo and Variation,’ that the book truly moves beyond loving tribute and technical display to a lovely and sad look back by Keats at his life, lifting the book to a high level.
This superb book raises the possibility, unsettling for academic critics, that poems may make the best criticism.
––Studies in Romanticism