What Is This Shit?

Ken Ichigawa

How few amongst us will come to The Star-Treader and Other Poems
will open eyes and unsullied hearts. Who, at this very late date, has any
interest who in the obscure California poet Clark Ashton Smith, a man
best known for stories that appeared in Weird Tales and an association
with Howard Philips Lovecraft? He is a cult author—he has a cult
following, yes, but cult followings are small, and this one diminishes—
Smith’s reputation seems only to dwindle with each day. It seems as
though no new converts will be made. Who seeks the seeker?
There may be some—but I am not one. The process of working with
Clark Ashton Smith’s The Star-Treader and Other Poems has been one
of the most singularly dreadful experiences of my life. Make no mistake:
this foul book is best consigned to the dustbin of history. It is below
burning by fascist hordes. That we remember it at all is testament only to
the literary recall of socially inept retards.

I find this work foul. I find it offensive. Ken Ichigawa is not the sort
of man who hides what he says, and so this is what I say: this book is

There may be very many kinds of shit—doodoo, caca, merde, and
hagu. But this is the worst sort of literary shit, because it is outdated shit:
Clark Ashton Smith, at the very merry age of 18, published this book in
November 1912 and found himself critically well received—especially by
the local San Francisco press. They loved it. The New York Times gave it
a favorable review—saying, in effect, this kid’s pretentious but watch
him! he’s got a gift!—and even as sound as stalwart as Arthur Machen
wrote well of it.

Smith was the devotee of the unofficial poet laureate of San
Francisco—a man named George Sterling. Sterling, in his day, was well
regarded and considered a rare poetick talent. It is not longer his day.
Sterling was a fluke, at best an anomaly: his poetry was also shit. He is
now even less read than Smith, never being fortunate enough to be
bathed in the warmth of Lovecraft’s friendship.

Let us repeat: this work was well received. Major publications and
major literary figures believed in its inherent value.

But then—thank god—something happened. Call it Modernism.
Chronologically, we have said, Smith’s book was published in November
1912. The review in the New York Times was dated January 26, 1913. In
less than three weeks the Armory Show would open—the genie was
about to released from its bottle, (an image, we suspect, being laden with
infantile, clichéd, and threadbare mythological associations, would have
been very appealing to Mr. Smith himself.)

Before the show Clark Ashton was posed to become George Sterling
Part Two—there were nothing but bright days ahead. His work had been
exceptionally well received, he had made fast friends with the SF scene,
and he was young. There was so much ahead. But the world changed—
and Smith grew sick. For eight years he was ill.

By the time of his recovery everything was different. His fast SF
friends had all killed themselves—Sterling included. What had happened
in Europe, artistically and socially, could no longer be ignored—the
waves of discontent had washed up on these American shores and lashed
them bloody.

No American poet, thankfully, would ever be able to legitimately
write this sort of hit again. The boy wonder was close to thirty and
almost entirely ignored.

Smith traveled on, of course—he kept writing, nearly samizdat—but
he was never to regain the fame of his early literary life. Now, despite the
howling protests of a dying breed, he serves as little more than a footnote
to a much greater man, and will, in the future, be remembered for
nothing so much as the friendship he provided.

And so it should always be.

Introduction to The Star-Treader
and other poems
Resurrectionary Press 2003 pdf version

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