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The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, eds.
Hippocampus Press, 194 pages

Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith was born on January 13th, 1893, in Long Valley, California and lived much of his life in nearby Auburn, with his parents. An autodidact after Grade 5, Smith began to write at the age of eleven. At seventeen, Smith sold stories to The Black Cat, The Overland Monthly, and other magazines. His first collection of verse, Star-Treader and Other Poems was published in 1912, and received rave reviews. He resumed writing short stories in the late 20s, his best output occurring between 1930 and 1936, often in Weird Tales. A literary friend of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, he contributed a number of elements to the Cthulhu Mythos, and created a world of Hyperborea before Howard used it for his Conan tales. He continued to publish verse in a number of magazines. His translations of Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) are also very highly regarded. Smith was also a painter and sculptor. He also worked a number of mundane jobs including journalist, a fruit picker and packer, a wood chopper, a typist, a cement-mixer, a gardener, a hard-rock miner, mucker and windlasser.

Tribute Sites: 1, 2, 3, 4 (in French), 5 (in Spanish), 6 (in Spanish), 7, 8

Online C.A. Smith discussion group

E-TEXTS: 1, 2 (including C.A. Smith audio), 3 (in Spanish), 4, 5

Bibliography: 1, 2 (in Spanish)

Essays relating to C.A. Smith:

BOOK REVIEWS: Foreign editions: Hippocampus Press
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The Last Oblivion Those of you who have read Clark Ashton Smith's delectable short tales of fantastic horror such as "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" or "The Black Abbot of Puthuum" know already of Smith's vocabulary-rich prose, his dark sense of humour and his ill-fated protagonists. If you're not amongst those graced with a knowledge of his prose, then pick up the recent reissue of his best stories in Emperor of Dreams. Certainly, Smith is not for everyone: if one is not as cultured as a typical fantasy author of the first half of the 20th century -- typically knowledge of Latin, Greek and/or Icelandic, along with French and English mediaeval literature, and a smidgeon of folklore -- or one is not willing to do a lot of flipping through a dictionary (or, in this volume, a convenient glossary), Smith can be very frustrating. Even so, his longer dream poems such as "The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil" do have a palpable nightmare mood to them. While, unlike his short stories, the poems don't have much of a narrative sequence, it is clear that Smith, who also doubled as a sculptor and artist of some renown, was attempting to paint a picture with words which he might not have thought possible to render with paint or chisel. Though his first and greatest early influence was the American west-coast poet George Sterling, Smith was in some sense the Swinburne of dark fantasy.

Lovecraft & Co. experts S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz have collected poems from Smith early ground-breaking Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912) to the posthumously published The Hill of Dionysus (1962), along with some previously unpublished material. A short introduction presents a succinct overview of Smith's poetry in the context of his association with George Sterling, H.P. Lovecraft, and the like. As pointed out by Joshi and Schultz, Smith's poetry is not in a style currently in vogue -- it even rhymes and has complex alliterations. As an added bonus, the book reproduces three Smith paintings (in colour) and one sketch. While the cover painting is quite strange -- with a lizard-like beast sitting fox-and-the-grapes-like beneath an oddly pendulous fruit tree, the other two images, as much as one might like to think them as colourful renderings of some strange star-treading beasts, are actually more treading-stars, species related to starfish: one a colourful brittle- or serpent star (Ophiuroidea) and the other a primitive echinoderm, the sea lily (Crinoidea). Nonetheless, they are rather pretty and reminiscent of some of the illustrations in the Voynich Manuscript, thought to have perhaps inspired Lovecraft's Necronomicon.

As William Thompson states in his review (paragraph 6) of a recent collection of Smith's prose, The Emperor of Dreams, to truly appreciate Smith's prose it is to be taken in small doses -- this is doubly true for his poetry. However, this said, Smith's is among the best genre poetry that's out there:

[...]Ere my heart
Hath hushed the panic tumult of its pulses,
I listen, from beyond the horizon's rim,
A mutter faint as when the far simoon,
Mounting from unknown deserts, opens forth,
Wide as the waste, those wings of torrid night
That shake the doom of cities from their folds,
And musters in its van a thousand winds
That, with disrooted palms for besoms, rise,
And sweep the sands to fury. [...]

                                        The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil (p.25)
So if you're any sort of fan of the genre, this certainly is a title to pick up and savour in a nice well-lit place with some stout coffee so you know you won't fall asleep and dream...

Copyright © 2002 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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