Sentenced to Life


There’s already been too much death this year, both public and private. On Thursday, I will be attending the funeral of the mother of one of my closest friends. He came to my mother’s funeral, twenty-four years ago, at this same time of year, and I will be the only one of this little circle of friends who can stand with him.

Unless there’s going to be more luck in this year than I dream possible, there’s going to be more deaths, more mournings. Not among the people I know, nor their loved ones, that much may be hoped for, but there will be people out there, in the wider world who, like Bowie and Rickman, aye and Lemmy, though I was never into his music, will leave the world less palatable than it’s sometimes been.

One of those names I expect will be Clive James. I remember him from as far back as Granada’s Cinema, back in 1973. I remember him from the lyrics to Pete Atkin’s songs, from the collections of television criticism, from the novels, the essays, the memoirs, the wit, the wisdom, the overt cleverness and the sentence that glitters and dances, over and over again.

Today, courtesy of e-Bay, a copy of his most recent poetry collection, Sentenced to Life, has arrived through my door, and I’ve wrestled the package open and I’ve begun to read, and I’ve stopped reading after only a handful of pages, because these poems have the same thing at the heart of them, because James is looking back and into himself with every line. Loss and regret and yet the determination still to say things, say things in a way no-one else has or ever could. How the memory of the Sydney sun on the bay still burns in his mind, rendering it unnecessary to rue that he will never see it again with his eyes.

I’ve had to stop because I don’t dare hope that Clive James may yet prove to be quasi-immortal, and that there might still be more, that the loneliness of losing the people you respect, you admire, that you take knowledge from might still be postponed throughout the entirety of 2016. It’s already got too many good ones, is there any chance it will hold back and we’ll get to hang on to this one a time longer.

It’s going to take me all week to read a slim book, because I can’t read it all at once, or more than just short fragments that lead me into too much empathy, too quickly. I have a real funeral, for someone I know, to attend. I donn’t think I can afford to be too prepared.

 

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