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Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Boyd Pearson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 November, 2002 11:46PM
I had just made my customary cup of afternoon tea, sweetened with honey, when I decided to check the mail box before the next downpour. Along with the usual collection of bills and advertising was a very large envelope proclaiming to be "Global Priority Mail" and decaled with the spider web insignia of that new kid on the publishing block Hippocampus Press.

It was a very well packaged copy of The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith, Edited by S.T Joshi & David E. Schultz.

I started to flick through it - taking a sip of my now stone cold tea - I realised that this was no trifling collection. It contains most of my favourite CAS works and while I see them practically daily on my web site reading them on paper again deeply enhanced my understanding and appreciation for one of the world's great forgotten and unappreciated poets.

The editors have selected 158 works, from a body of over 600, which they feel fall under the heading of "fantastic"; freely admitting the arbitrariness of this. Not an enviable task, and while any hard core fan will find a personal favourite or two missing, there will be little real disappointment.

I deliberately choose not to start reviewing the actual poetry contained in this work. That would be a piece of prodigious length requiring an inordinate amount of time.


While I have few complaints about the work I will comment that the casual browser in the local book store may see its cover and write it off as the work of a child. While I personally enjoy CAS's artwork a lot of it does have a very child like quality. Also none of the art work is titled - and while I don't know if any of the three colour pieces has a title, the black and white drawing on page three I know is was titled "An Afreet".

The Glossary in the back while being a useful tool for readers of a poet who's self education included memorising dictionaries is rather brief with most definitions being only half a dozen words long. So far I have only found one error (Antenora - is in circle XI of Dante's Hell (treachery against country) - not a CAS creation).

I close by thoroughly recommending this work to both the CAS fan and the causal reader and look forward to future releases from Hippocampus Press.

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Dr. W.C. Farmer (IP Logged)
Date: 8 November, 2002 11:21AM
Boyd,
A cup of tea sounds great.
Derrick Hussey is arriving next week to go over publication of
my documents by CAS and said he would be bringing a copy of
"Oblivion" - You will enjoy, I think, the unpublished poems
that will be coming out - One is very, very, early, but most are
rather more in the vein of his first publications.
Keep up the good work.
Dr. Farmer

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Raven10 (IP Logged)
Date: 23 February, 2006 06:52AM
How do the poems of CAS compare with some of HP Lovecraft's poetry? Some of Lovecraft's poems are atmospheric and were written with a certain style.


Julian (aka Raven10)

Julian L Hawksworth

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Martinus (IP Logged)
Date: 23 February, 2006 07:26AM
Raven10 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> How do the poems of CAS compare with some of HP
> Lovecraft's poetry?

Much better, IMO, and HPL thought so too -- I've even read somewhere that HPL's output of poetry suffered a great decline after his discovery of CAS, because he thought he could never match him. Lovecraft was a terribly uneven poet.


Yrs
Martin

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Gavin Callaghan (IP Logged)
Date: 26 February, 2006 07:49PM
Lovecraft's verse is heavily influenced by eighteenth-century models, which is basically like rhyming prose, while Smith's verse is patterned more after the Decadent and aesthetic mode of the late nineteenth-century. It is strange that Lovecraft never attempted to write verse in the Decadent idiom, --and in fact even actively attacked it in his early years--, since so many of his own interests lay in the macabre and Poesque vein which the Decadent writers also adored. Interestingly, as S. T. Joshi has shown, the first instances of Lovecraft's supposed "cosmicism" are actually to be found in his verse, ---this cosmicism, along with Lovecraft's fascination with the ocean and with the werewolf, going on to form the core of his later fictional output.

Lovecraft's mother, in her later years, would apparently speak incessantly to anyone who would listen about her "brilliant son", who was, she claimed, a "poet of the highest order". And indeed, --if paperback sales-figures of her son's works are any indication, --she was right. Lovecraft was not only a poet, but a popular poet-- save that his poeticism was expressed not in verse, as he had intended, but in prose, for which his eighteenth-century inspiration made him more properly fitted.

I actually prefer CAS's stories to Lovecraft's, however, Smith's works having an erotic intensity and grandeur of imagination which Lovecraft's lack. Lovecraft pared down Poe's influence, retaining only his cosmicism, --whereas Smith enlarged upon Poe, widening his scope, sharpening his point, and multiplying the exoticism of his horrors. Smith's "The Second Interment" makes me hyperventilate from suffocation whenever I dare to read it. Smith's "The Charnel God" is marred only by a happy ending. Smith's picture of a dying future earth, covered with endless avenues of tombs among which young lovers hide and kiss, is unforgettable. I consider Smith's Mars stories his greatest of all.

I dislike Smith only when he ventures into humor and satire in his stories. "The Door to Saturn" starts out as a gripping tale of menace and intolerance, but ends up as basically a comedy in which all true terror and menace is lost.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 26 Feb 06 | 08:19PM by Gavin Callaghan.

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 27 February, 2006 09:47AM

I'm sorry you haven't yet learned to appreciate the "wry" Smith - It was his most characteristic quality during the 10 years I knew him intimately - Much of it is autobiographical (as is Charnel God, oddly enough) - His favorite apothegm was
"Sweet are the uses of obscurity".
drf

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 28 February, 2006 02:33AM
Gavin Callaghan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> [snippage]
>
> I dislike Smith only when he ventures into humor
> and satire in his stories. "The Door to Saturn"
> starts out as a gripping tale of menace and
> intolerance, but ends up as basically a comedy in
> which all true terror and menace is lost.
>
>
What?! Even "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan?" That is both one of the funniest _and_ the nastiest pieces of fantasy ever written, and ranks up there with some of Dunsany's work. Anyway, that's my opinion: YMMV, of course. Besides, "The Door to Saturn," like "The Monster of the Prophecy," are essentially satires on intolerance and not tales of terror. Smith could paints pictures of many colors from his palatte, and not all of them were black.

Scott

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Gavin Callaghan (IP Logged)
Date: 4 March, 2006 08:06PM
SCOTT CONNORS WROTE:> > What?! Even "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan?" That is both one of the funniest _and_ the nastiest pieces of fantasy ever written, and ranks up there with some of Dunsany's work.>>

Allright, allright! I'll try to get my hands on some of his biting satyres.

I have to admit I find Lovecraft quite funny at times, albeit unintentionally; I love the line from The Colour Out of Space, where HPL refers to a woodchuck having "an expression on its face which no one had ever seen on a woodchuck before."

CALONIAN WROTE:
>>I'm sorry you haven't yet learned to appreciate the "wry" Smith - It was his most characteristic quality during the 10 years I knew him intimately - Much of it is autobiographical (as is Charnel God, oddly enough) - His favorite apothegm was
"Sweet are the uses of obscurity". drf>>

I will endeavor to do so.
I am interested in what you say about "The Charnel God" being autobiographical-- I seem to recall something in CAS's Selected Letters about this, relating to a girl he loved who was apparently ill. I am just now flipping through my copy of that book, but can't seem to find it; maybe I imagined it!

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: garymorris (IP Logged)
Date: 5 September, 2006 11:25PM
Gavin,

That Lovecraft quote from Colour Out of Space about the woodchuck is hilarious. Thanks for reminding me!

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: walrus (IP Logged)
Date: 6 September, 2006 11:11AM
Gavin Callaghan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I have to admit I find Lovecraft quite funny at
> times, albeit unintentionally; I love the line
> from The Colour Out of Space, where HPL refers to
> a woodchuck having "an expression on its face
> which no one had ever seen on a woodchuck before."

Just curious, have you perchance read Airaksinen's interpretation of this passage in his treatment of "The Colour out of Space" in his "The Route to Horror: The Philosophy of HPL"?

Juha-Matti Rajala

Re: Book Review - The Last Oblivion: The Best Fantastic Poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Ghoti23 (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2007 12:22PM
Gavin Callaghan wrote:

> I have to admit I find Lovecraft quite funny at
> times, albeit unintentionally; I love the line
> from The Colour Out of Space, where HPL refers to
> a woodchuck having "an expression on its face
> which no one had ever seen on a woodchuck before."

To defend the old gent: HPL's humour is understated, not unintentional.

Quote:
The proportions of its body seemed slightly altered in a queer way impossible to describe, while its face had taken on an expression which no one ever saw in a woodchuck before.

It's more obvious here:

Quote:
The "Dutchman's breeches" became a thing of sinister menace, and the bloodroots grew insolent in their chromatic perversion.

"The Colour out of Space"



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