OSU carpenter-poet Clemens Starck releases "chapbook"


CORVALLIS - Clemens Starck, a carpenter with Oregon State University's facilities services who has achieved prominence as a poet, has released a new "chapbook" of poems called "Traveling Incognito" that draw on his life experiences.

Chapbooks date back several hundred years to a time when English balladeers, poets and storytellers would travel the countryside selling their works via small, handcrafted publications.

"Traveling Incognito" was produced by Wood Works Press in Seattle, which designed the woodcuts and printed just 500 numbered copies in the initial press run, which was done on a 1904 letterpress.

The handmade, meticulous craftsmanship mirrors Starck's poems.

Starck previously received an Oregon Book Award for poetry in 1996 for his debut effort, "Journeyman's Wages," and has been nominated for the 2003 award for another book, "China Basin."

Born in Rochester, N.Y., in 1937, Starck attended Princeton University before dropping out. But he continued his education on the road, riding freight trains and working at a variety of jobs around the country. He has worked for more than 40 years - mostly at blue collar jobs - mainly as a construction foreman and a carpenter.

He's also been a merchant seaman, a door-to-door salesman, a ranch hand, and a newspaper reporter.

Starck works, he says, to support his poetry. He has gained a reputation for his subtle, sometimes poignant style.

The 22 poems in "Traveling Incognito" range in topic from a shipwreck in the North Pacific to installing door closers on the OSU campus. Each poem is an anecdote of sorts, told in simple, straightforward language - frequently with a glint of Starck's characteristic wry humor.

"The poems include the names of people I've encountered, and places I've been, along the way," Starck said, "from hobos to newspaper editors, from Manila Bay to rural New Jersey."

His poems strike a chord with reviewers, who praise his approach. Wrote Eileen Duncan of Salmon Bay Review: "The poems of Clemens Starck are refreshing and wonderful to read. There is no excess of language and no academic posturing; these poems are crafted with a subtlety of form and a precision that are the hallmark of fine architecture."

Starck, who is semi-retired from OSU, works as a carpenter two days a week on campus and spends the rest of his time at his Coast Range residence doing odd jobs and writing poems. He contemplated his impending retirement in a poem he calls "On the Eve of Retirement I Have This Dream About Going Back to Work."

In this dream I'm hired
as a sheetmetal worker, a tin-bender
installing gutter
along the overhanging cornice of a high-rise
hundreds of feet above the street.

Although I'm inexperienced
and terrified, I know the trick
is to lay out properly, in two dimensions
on a flat surface,
what will - by cutting, bending, and crimping -
be transformed
into something three-dimensional.

Not unlike a poem, I think, as I discuss
with George Kotlarek
a particularly intricate detail, and remember
I won't get paid
till the end of the month.

"Traveling Incognito" is available at the OSU Book Store, and at Wood Works Press in Seattle, Wash. For information, see their website at www.woodworkspress.com, or call them at 206-633-5647.

Starck will make a number of appearances and do readings around the Northwest in upcoming months. Among those already scheduled:

  • Nov. 13: Oregon Book Award ceremony in Portland.


  • Nov. 15: A reading in Newport, Ore. at the Newport Recreation Center as part of the Nye Beach Writers Series, 7 p.m.


  • Nov. 23: A reading at the Open Books bookstore in Seattle, 3 p.m.


  • Nov. 23: A reading at Red Sky Poetry Theater, Seattle, 7 p.m.


  • Dec. 4: A reading at the Oregon State University Bookstore in Corvallis, noon.


  • Dec. 4: A reading at Borders Books in Salem, 7 p.m.


  • Feb. 22-29: Serve as poet-in-residence at Porter College at the University of California-Santa Cruz, with various readings, classes and appearances on campus and in town.


  • June 19: A reading in Oxnard, Calif., at the Oxnard Carnegie Art Museum. (The time, and other readings in the area, to be arranged).