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SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY POETRY:
10.0 CLARK ASHTON SMITH'S POETRY
by
JONATHAN VOS POST

Copyright 1996, 1997, by Magic Dragon Multimedia.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.
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10.0 CLARK ASHTON SMITH'S POETRY

[References from Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography, Compiled by Donald Sidney-Fryer, West Kingston RI: Donald M. Grant, 1978].

10.1 Biography of Clark Ashton Smith

Perhaps the greatest science fiction and fantasy poet of the 20th Century was Clark Ashton Smith. He was both the most prolific and the most polished poet of the Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, H. P. Lovecraft clique, although he claimed to have been more influenced by Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers, Lafcadio Hearn, Thˇophile Gautier, Gustave Flaubert, Arthur Machen, Joris Karl Huysman, and Sir Thomas Browne, at least in his prose; and by Poe, Baudelaire, Swinburne, Keats, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, and his immediate mentor George Sterling in verse. He was a decisive influence on Frank Belknap Long, Leah Bodine Drake, H. P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, Donald A. Wandrei, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, and the under-appreciated Texas cosmic poet Lilith Lorraine. Not well known by the public at large, he casts a monumental shadow throughout the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Somewhat more appreciated as a poet in his lifetimes, he was thought by some critics to be the greatest poet of California, or even in America. He was born Friday the 13th of January, 1893 in Long Valley, California. His family had descended from Norman-French counts (including the Hugunot Gaillards or Gaylords, who came to New England in 1630), barons, and Crusaders, from Lancashire baronets, and (on his maternal grandmother's side) Scottish and French Canadian. His father's father was an iron-master who made himself rich and married into the old Ashton family, one of whom had been beheaded in the Gunpowder Plot. His father, Timeus, squandered a fortune by world-wide gambling. Though often ill, Clark Ashton Smith had an idyllically happy childhood (altogether unlike that of Howard or Lovecraft). He taught himself Latin well enough to enjoy Latin poets, and was so consistently autodidactic as to later refuse a Guggenheim Scholarship to the University of California. By the age of 11, he was writing imitations of fairy tales and The Arabian Nights (in the Richard Francis Burton annotated translation). Soon afterward, the influence of Hans Christian Anderson, Rudyard Kipling, and Beckford's pioneering Gothic Vathek show clearly in his writing. At 13, he was astonished by Poe and by the Fitzgerald translation of the Rubaiyat, and at 14 by George Sterling (unofficial Poet Laureate of the West Coast). By 17 he had sold his first poems to magazines, then sold four short stories but retreated to writing primarily verse. Mythologist/teacher Edith J. Hamilton connected Smith and George Sterling, who maintained an important life-long correspondence. By the age of 19, he had written most of The Star-Treader and Other Poems, and had published his strongest collection, The House of Orchids and Other Poems, which delighted Ambrose Bierce, who sadly just missed meeting Smith face-to-face. Sterling introduced Smith to the poetry of Baudelaire at the age of 19, and the San Francisco press 'discover' him as "Boy Poet ... Poetic genius ... Ranking with th Best of Keats and Byron ... New Shelley" and the like. Over three years, he sells more than 1,000 copies of his first book of poems (relatively speaking, a best-seller). From ages 20-28 he suffers poor health, including a nervous breakdown. Bierce dies, too soon to have granted Smith the international attention he intended to provide. His grotesque paintings and drawings are exhibited in New York and on the West Coast, but he gives away far more than he sells. At the age of 27, in just ten days, he writes his greatest long poem, The Hashish-eater; or The Apocalypse of Evil. At 29 he gets his first letter from H. P. Lovecraft, beginning a life-long epistolary friendship (they never meet). From 30 to 33 he works as a poetic journalist, to pay off the debts from printing Ebony and Crystal. He writes his first "weird" stories, learns French, and translates Baudelaire. George Stirling dies, shortly after proclaiming Smith as "undoubtedly our finest living poet. He is in the great tradition of Shakespeare, Keats, and Shelley; and yet, to our everlasting shame, he is entirely neglected and almost completely unknown." At age 34, he has a mystical, transcendental experience at Crater Ridge in the Sierras, and for a decade concentrates on the resulting fiction, beginning with The City of the Singing Flame, and including more than 100 short stories or condensed novels, powerfully poetic in imagery and language. Journalist George Work declares Smith "the greatest Americqn poet of today [whose] poems do not compare unfavorably with those of Byron, Shelley, Keats or Swinburne." He fights a terrible grass and wood fire on the family ranch, and by the age of 56 carves roughly 200 sculptures from local rocks and minerals. Lovecraft writes his last poem in 1936, published in Weird Tales as "To Clark Ashton Smith ", then dies. Smith responds with "To Howard Phillips Lovecraft", also published in Weird Tales. By age 45, Smith becomes disgusted by the limits of pulp fantasy and by how poorly it rewards writers. For the rest of his life, he is primarily a lyric poet, writing fewer than a dozen more stories. From 45 to 48 he does "more living than writing", and becomes very close to poet Eric Barker and his wife, dancer Madelynne Greene. From 52 to 57 he produces Selected Poems, containing over 500 of his 700 extant poems. At 56 he teaches himself Spanish, makes his first translations from Spanish, and writes his first Spanish poetry. He resumes painting. Smith is visited by his publisher and friend August Derleth; has the first of a series of strokes; meets, falls in love with, and marries Carol Jones Dorman on 10 November 1954. Four years later he appears on Television for the first and only time, Sacramento's KCRA. He writes his last poem in June 1961, is visited by fellow SF &F author/poet L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine, and dies on 14 August 1961, aged 68. Scholar/Publisher Roy A. Squires of Glendale, California and Arkham House commence various posthumous publishings.

10.2 Bibliography

More than 500 poems in collections including:
  1. The Star-Treader and Other Poems, San Francisco: A.M.Robertson, November 1912, 100 pages, 2000 copies?
  2. Odes and Sonnets, San Francisco: The Book Club of California, June 1918, 28 pages, 300 copies
  3. Ebony and Crystal. Poems in Verse and Prose, Auburn CA: The Auburn Journal Press, December 1922, 152 pages, 525 copies
  4. Sandalwood, Auburn CA: The Auburn Journal Press, October 1925, 43 pages, 250 copies
  5. Nero and Other Poems, Lakeport CA: The Futile Press, May 1937, 24 pages, c.250 copies
  6. Selected Poems, delivered to Arkham House in December 1949, Sauk City WI: Arkham House, November 1971, 403 pages, 2000 copies
  7. The Dark Chateau (and other poems), Sauk City WI: Arkham House, December 1951, 63 pages, 563 copies
  8. Spells and Philtres, Sauk City WI: Arkham House, March 1958, 54 pages, 519 copies
  9. The Hill of Dionysius. A Selection, hand-set and hand-printed Pacific Grove CA: Roy A. Squires and Clyde Beck, published by Roy A. Squires, Glendale CA, November 1962, 48 pages, 180 copies in 3 editions
  10. Donde Duermes, Eldorado? Y Otros Poemas, published by Roy A. Squires, Glendale CA, July 1964, 16 pages, 160 copies
  11. Poems in Prose ... ??
  12. The Fugitive Poems of Clark Ashton Smith, The Zothique Edition, Four Volumes as hand-printed fascicles in a limited and numbered edition by Roy A. Squires, Glendale CA: (1) The Tartarus of the Suns, 165 copies, 21 May 1970 (2) The Palace of Jewels, 167 numbered copies, 21 May 1970 (3) In The Ultimate Valleys, 160 numbered copies, 10 August 1970 (4) To George Sterling. Five Poems, 196 numbered copies, 10 August 1970
  13. The Fugitive Poems of Clark Ashton Smith, The Xiccarph Edition, Six Volumes as hand-printed fascicles in a limited and numbered edition by Roy A. Squires: (1) The Titans in Tartarus, ? copies, 1974 (2) A Song from Hell, ? numbered copies, 1975 (3) The Potion of Dreams, ? numbered copies, 1975 (4) The Phanes of Dawn, ? copies, 1976 (5) Seer of the Cycles, ? copies, 1976 (6) The Burden of the Suns, ? copies, 1977
  14. Grotesques et Fantastiques, Drawings and Poems by Clark Ashton Smith, edited and published by Gerry de la Ree, Saddle River NJ, 1973
  15. Klarkash-Ton and Monstro Ligriv, previously unpublished poems and art by Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) and Virgil Finlay (1914-1971), edited and published by Gerry de la Ree, Saddle River NJ, 1974

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Copyright 1996, 1997 by Magic Dragon Multimedia.
All rights reserved. May not be reproduced without permission.
May be posted electronically provided that it is transmitted unaltered, in its entirety, and without charge.