Forever Friars: Remembering Poet Tom Clark, Class of 1959

Poet, biographer and Fenwick alumnus Tom Clark ’59 died tragically in mid-August. Mr. Clark, 77, was struck by a motorist while walking in his hometown of Berkeley, CA, on August 17th, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) reported. He died of his injuries the next morning.

Clark as a Freshman Friar in 1956.

Clark was born in Oak Park in 1941. “Many Fenwick men from our class attended Ascension grammar school with Tom. I was among them,” writes Tom Maloney ’59, who resides in Chicago. Mr. Maloney remembers his classmate’s artistic abilities. “No one could draw like Tom Clark,” Maloney recalls. “He was a great artist.”

Founded in 1974 by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, as part of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s 100-year experiment, Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics is located in Boulder, Colorado,.

Writing, however, became Clark’s forte. “He is considered one of America’s finest poets,” Maloney continues. “He was an accomplished and knowledgeable baseball writer. Add to his literary achievements a biography on Jack Kerouac,” the 1950s’ Beat Generation novelist and poet (portrayed at left).

Clark was, indeed, a prolific writer, compiling two dozen collections. He once said that his literary influences came from Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, leaders of the rebellious “Imagist” poetry movement in the 20th century.

He graduated from Fenwick and went on to the University of Michigan, where he was a student of former U.S. Poet Laureate (2006-07) Donald Hall, Jr. Last year before his own death, Hall called Clark “the best student I ever had.”

During his productive writing career, Clark penned more than two dozen works, including Fractured Karma in 1990 and the controversial Great Naropa Poetry Wars 10 years earlier.

After earning his under-graduate degree in 1963, Clark became poetry editor of the Paris Review. A glowing recommendation from Hall convinced Editor-in-Chief George Plimpton to hire the then 22-year-old. Fifteen years ago Clark told poetry publication Jacket magazine that his “sole stipulated condition [at the time] was that I be allowed to send out rejection notices to all the poets who’d lately had verse accepted by my immediate predecessor, X.J. Kennedy.” Plimpton embraced the rebel in Clark, who would stay on for 10 years and bring to the Paris Review’s pages the work of so-called New York School poets, including Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, Amiri Baraka, singer-songwriter Lou Reed and, later, Ron Padgett.

Beatniks in England

While studying for his master’s degree in 1965 at Cambridge University under a Fulbright scholarship, Clark had a chance encounter with Allen Ginsberg. He ran into the Beat poet at a pub in Bristol, and the two men proceeded to hitch-hike to London. He then enrolled at the University of Essex for two years.

Clark in 1972

In the New York Times, peer poet Padgett has described Clark’s subtle work as “music to the ear” that always left readers feeling “elevated.” Billy Collins, another poet laureate, called Clark “the lyric imp of American poetry” in a Boulder News article. (Clark once resided in Boulder, CO.) In reviewing Clark’s 2006 poetry collection, Light & Shade, Collins wrote: “Tom Clark … has delivered many decades’ worth of goofy, melancholic, cosmic, playful and wiggy poems. I can never get enough of this wise guy leaning on the literary jukebox, this charmer who refuses to part with his lovesick teenage heart.”

From 1987-2008 Clark taught poetics at New College of California in San Francisco. More recently, he wrote regularly on a personal blog, “Beyond the Pale,” even hours up until his death.

“Tom and I were married for 50 years,” writes his widow, Angelica Heinegg. “It’s a time of shock and sorrow for me and my daughter, Juliet. But we are slowly adjusting to the new reality.” They scattered his ashes on September 9th.

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Alumni Spotlight: Phil Caputo ’59

The writer and former Marine Corps lieutenant from Westchester commemorates the 40th anniversary of his critically acclaimed Vietnam memoir, A Rumor of War.

By Mark Vruno

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Alumnus Phil Caputo wrote his Vietnam War memoir 40 years ago.
(Image courtesy of Michael Priest Photography.)

Perhaps you have sweated through intense, war-inspired films such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Hamburger Hill” and “Platoon,” the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1987. Some readers literally wept while reading Flags of Our Fathers, imagining the hell on earth that their own fathers went through during World War II. But if you’ve yet to experience Phil Caputo’s 1977 Vietnam memoir, A Rumor of War, be forewarned that it, too, can be emotionally draining.

Caputo is a Fenwick Friar, Class of 1959. He also is graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a B.A. in English. Later in life Caputo became an award-winning investigative journalist and, after that, a New York Times (NYT) best-selling novelist. In between, “PJ” Caputo served as a U.S. Marine Corps second-lieutenant on the ground in Vietnam. He was one of some 2.5 million American troops — men and boys — sent to help fight the war against communism in Southeast Asia. He thought his U.S. Marine Corps mission would be one of glory, and he admits to being unprepared for the gore of it all.

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Caputo in 1959 (FHS Yearbook photo.)

Over the course of four decades, the book has had staying power, the author says, because its overtones of changing perspectives still resonate with readers young, old and middle-aged. “We have seen how the Vietnam Era, which includes the tumult of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements, is the source of most of the divisions experienced in our country today,” notes Caputo. “It’s like a windshield crack that spreads if not attended to — where was the initial break?” he asks metaphorically. “I trace it back to Vietnam and the delegitimizing of the United States’ government,” which lost much of the trust that the American people had in it, he added. The Vietnam Era is the epicenter of that thought process, Caputo contends.

Reflecting on the anti-war protests, campus sit-in’s and riots of his youth, Caputo is quick to point out that it wasn’t only the federal government that he and his peers under the age of 30 refused to trust. “There was a general distrust of every institution: business, academia. Over time, this distrust has passed from the left to the right,” he observes.

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2017 VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE: Defending the Shield

Military Friars who have served and presently are serving our nation, fighting for freedom.

By Mark Vruno

The fall issue of Friar Reporter, Fenwick’s alumni magazine, features a tribute to U.S. military veterans.

Patriotism rings out loud and proud within the Fenwick community. The Catholic school in Oak Park, Illinois, may be best known for turning out top-notch doctors, lawyers, business leaders, educators and politicians, but the Fighting Friars make good soldiers, too. And there are and have been a lot of them. One covert, black-ops Friar alumnus prays the rosary every morning at 5 a.m.

Editor’s note: If you know of Friars who have served in the military and are not mentioned in this story, please email us at communications@fenwickfriars.com.

 

Two recent graduates from the Class of 2017, Will Flaherty and Kyle Gruszka — one a wrestler from Riverside and the other a soccer goalie and baseball player from Chicagoare among 4,000 cadets enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Senior Alex Pup ’18, a baseball player for the Friars, will join them next year.

Back home in Chicago, former Fenwick running back Josh McGee ’15 enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and now is working in communications while attending community college. Jimmy Coopman ’14 enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry after Fenwick, while Steven Barshop ’17 recently completed his USMC basic training. Kyle Graves ’15 has enlisted in the Navy and ships out early next month. Michael Sullivan ’12 was Army ROTC at Indiana University and now is commissioned in the reserves.

Kruszka and Buinauskas

Out east Mike Kelly ’14 is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland. Erin Scudder ’16, a standout swimmer from Western Springs, is in her second year at the Naval Academy. She aspires to become a Navy or Marine Corps pilot. When Scudder thinks to her influential teenage years, she recalls the value of a Moral Theology course her junior year at Fenwick, where she “learned lessons that I can apply to my life outside the of the classroom.” Joining her at Annapolis will be River Forester Brooke West ’18, who recently received an appointment to swim for Navy. Another Western Springer and Scudder’s classmate, Malone Buinauskas ’16, also a member of USNA (Class of 2020) and plays forward on the Navy women’s hockey team. Buinauskas says her first choice for service selection is to become a Naval Flight Officer.

Trent Leslie ’16 from Chicago is in his second year at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY. “I want to be an aviation officer and potentially work for the FBI after my time in the Army is finished,” explains Leslie, who played ice hockey, rugby and chess while at Fenwick.

Otto Rutt, Jr.

Career Marine Otto Rutt, Jr. ’79 retired in 2013 as a colonel in the Corps. Rutt went to the Ivy League after Fenwick, graduating from Harvard in three years with an economics degree. In 1982 he entered the Marines and became an F/A-18 pilot, serving two combat tours: one in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and one in Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 1994. In between those tours, he received an MBA with concentrations in Finance and Business Policy from the University of Chicago. Rutt has been decorated with the Meritorious Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, the Seas Service Deployment Ribbon and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.

By 2000 he was flying airplanes commercially while serving as a Marine Reserve Officer. In 2006 he received the distinction of “honor graduate” from the Air War College. “I relish both the history of the Marine Corps and Fenwick,” the former fighter pilot has said. “They are similar in many ways, particularly in the context of excellence and expectation.

“I have a great affinity for my Fenwick experience, particularly spiritual development. One of my most momentous experiences was a midnight mass Christmas Day in the Arabian Desert prior to the invasion of Kuwait,” Col. Rutt continued. “Without Fenwick, I would not have nearly the personal growth and inner strength to face such challenges.”

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