Philip Clark editor of IN THE EMPIRE OF THE AIR: THE POEMS OF DONALD BRITTON Interviewed for LAMBDA Literary

Philip Clark editor of IN THE EMPIRE OF THE AIR: THE POEMS OF DONALD BRITTON Interviewed for LAMBDA Literary

"Christopher Bram: To begin at the beginning, who was Donald Britton?

Philip Clark: Among people who never met Donald, I probably know as much as anyone—and he can still sometimes feel elusive. There are the bare biographical facts: grew up in Texas; attended the University of Texas as an undergraduate before heading to Washington D.C.; got his Ph.D. in literary studies at American University while becoming immersed in a thriving local poetry scene; moved to New York City at the tail end of the 1970s; published one book, called Italy, through Little Caesar Press in 1981, and intended to publish a second, In the Empire of the Air, which never quite happened; and left for Los Angeles later in the 80s, dying from AIDS complications in 1994. Those facts only reveal so much, though, and are almost incidental to his poetry; as Reginald Shepherd says in the book’s introduction, there’s an “effacement of self in Britton’s poems.” 

"Christopher Bram: What drew you to this project?

Philip Clark: It was not so much a “what” as a “who”: the book’s original editor, Reginald Shepherd, first had the vision for what this project would be. When I was in high school, I had read poems by Donald that were published in the early 80s anthology The Son of the Male Muse. I wanted to include Donald in the anthology I was co-editing with David Groff, Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS. Reginald apparently heard about Persistent Voices from Mark Doty, and he contacted me to be certain I was including Donald, whose poetry Reginald had loved for years and about whom he had written for Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights. Reginald told me that he intended to edit Donald’s selected poems. I was able to put him in touch with David Cobb Craig, Donald’s surviving partner and executor, who introduced Reginald to all the unpublished work. I proofread the original manuscript and continued to stay in touch as Reginald worked to find a publisher. When he passed away before he succeeded, I knew I wouldn’t be able to let this book die with him. His final desire for this book to exist had to be fulfilled. The book honors Donald and his unique work, of course, but it also honors Reginald’s generosity in wanting that work to live again."

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