Clive James is ill. We know that. He’s dying. His two most recent books are a collection of literary criticism, Poetry Notebook, and a forthcoming book of poetry with Picador that may well turn out to be his last. The beautiful Japanese Maple has already been published in The New Yorker.
We all say how much we loved someone after they have died. Here’s an idea: why don’t we tell Clive how much we love him while he’s still here? I suggested this to Don Paterson, who is involved with these two final books. He thinks it is a great idea, and would be delighted to pass our messages on. Apparently there is nothing that cheers Clive more than praise (same as the rest of us, I guess). I reckon he deserves cheering right now.
How would you like to drop Clive a line to say what you enjoy most about him and his work? If you leave a comment below, I can collect them all and Don can pass them on (or, if there turn out to be hundreds, I can link straight to the comments). We write stuff; Clive reads it. It’s as simple as that. You in? I’ll go first:
I thought you might like to hear this before we all say it when you’re not around. You should know how much we love you. Your words were in our house as long as I can remember. I stole May Week Was In June from my parents’ bookshelf and read it in secret before I knew who you were, and then read everything else by you I could find. I defied bedtimes as a kid to watch you have witty conversations on television that I never heard in real life. I learned the more your eyes disappeared behind crinkles, the funnier things usually were.
And now, on top of everything, you make us cry with a bloody poem. In a good way, with only a whisper of envy. You know, the usual way writers read.
The most important thing you taught me is that when I read my own work, it always sounds better if I do it in your voice. You’ll always be funnier than I am. You bastard.
Know that your words will be read for a long, long time.
If you’d like to send a message to Clive, leave a comment here. I won’t reply to them, but I’ll be reading. Let’s tell him now, while he can still hear us.