Monday, 12 May 2014

JHW 1942-2014

    And now John has died. I realise I reflect too often in this blog on the passing of poets - no doubt a sign of aging - but there always seems to me something especially tragic when a poet leaves the world. What was it Pasternak called them? "Hostages of eternity in the hands of time". Something of this although there is something assuring about that quote too; perhaps something also like this line from a Lorrie Moore story: "What is beautiful is seized".
   But John was a friend. He would have laughed at me for bandying such grandiose quotations. Like most genuine poets he didn't have much time for the pretentious baloney that's spouted about poetry and literature; he preferred to get on with it and let his work do the talking. I can only echo the generous tribute written by Todd Swift on Eyewear the other day about both John the man and John the poet, although I knew him for a much shorter time than Todd.
    I missed John when he made his final trip to England three weeks ago to read from his new volume The Golden Age of Smoking at the LRB Bookshop and I had been meaning to email him to see how it had gone ever since I've been back in London. On the other hand I'm really glad I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with John last autumn on this blog and I hope now it reads as a last summing-up of his views on poetry and a potted autobiography for those wishing to look back.
   What comes through, however, is the sense of himself as a figure somewhat eclipsed by the poetry scene he had not so long ago been a distinctive part of, a disillusion born of struggling to get quirky, unconventional poems like his heard above the chugging drone of mediocrity. I hope that John's death will occasion some form of revaluation of his achievement (perhaps a Collected, for example, will appear before long) and see his reputation restored to its proper standing.
   I just flicked through my favourite book of his, Canada, for a line or stanza appropriate for this moment but I could find nothing mournful or gloomy in the whole collection. In fact almost every poem is full of energy, good humour and zing: he was very much a poet "on the side of life" and as a person too. All the sadder, then, that he is now gone.
   Obituary by his friend John Lucas here.

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