First off, I have to say, Jim Clark would hate every last thing about this. He would hate the picture, he would hate the essay, he would hate that we “wasted” two good pages that could have been used to flesh out a story or give voice to another poet. And it was precisely this position that made Jim so well-suited to serve as Editor of The Greensboro Review for over thirty years. First and foremost, the magazine was always about the stories and poems it contained. Not the outside cover, not the authors, and certainly not the editor.
The other large part of Jim Clark’s greatness as an editor came from the way he observed, the way he paid attention. Jim was never one to flinch from the hard realities of life, and he showed this in both his own prose and his editing over the decades. As long as I knew him, Jim read deeply and widely, yet conversations with him were always accommodating and generous and honest, ranging in topics from historic chess matches to Fleer bubblegum comics, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to George W. Bush.
Jim once said that the best fiction works like this: there’s a story, and somewhere in its narrative floor is a trapdoor that, once discovered, leads the reader below the surface to a big room filled with a richness of stuff: allusive artifacts, bits and pieces of our collective history on this planet. And that’s where Jim preferred to stake his ground—below the surface, working like a wizard or mad scientist to pull together the disparate and overlooked and somehow, beyond all reason, mix everything so that the surface elements bloomed effortlessly, brilliantly. When Wordsworth speaks of finding the “greatest things from the least suggestion,” I like to think it has to do with this kind of attentiveness.
A former colleague of Jim’s recently reminded me that Jim always signed off his correspondence with “Best,” and I want to end here with that because, well, that is what Jim Clark was: the best. The best of bosses, the best of editors, the best of people.