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.
Dear Clive…Writing to you is a good idea. Everyone ought to know before they die how much they’re appreciated. The worst thing about funerals and memorial services etc is: the person him/herself isn’t there to see the sorrow and hear the praise and feel the love.
I’ve always admired you. I love your telly reviews. I wish you were still on the telly as you used to be.
Whenever we went for an appointment at Addenbrooke’s oncology, my late husband and I looked out for you ….just in case you were sitting in the waiting room. It became a standing joke.
Japanese Maple will enter the canon….and whenever we come across it in the future, we’ll think of you and what a life-enhancer you are. And will continue to be. Your words, your work, will abide. That’s for sure. I wish you nothing but good things and that you may enjoy every second of every day.
One heartfelt thank you from another writer in another genre but from the same place. Your Unreliable Memoirs took me straight back to 1950s Sydney. Just the mention of sitting in the cinema chewing Jaffas and Fantales was enough to bring memories more powerful than the smell of gum trees in hot sun. I love your strong Aussie disdain for pomposity. Good luck on your journey.
Apart from Queen Greatest Hits 1 and 2, your TV shows were about the only cultural output my family could all get together and enjoy. For that feat alone you deserve boundless praise.
A poet now, I look forward to reading more of your verse than the small sample I have.
Michael Willoughby (Takooba)
When I was younger I used to watch you on the TV – ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’ always made me laugh through all of life’s jagged ups and downs.
In middle age the ups and downs are less extreme, but sometimes deeper. Now your poetry helps me through with wisdom and understanding. I will never forget the first time I read ‘Japanese Maple’.
Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful words.
Thank you. Thank you for all of the laughter, for the beautiful words, for the insights and for the inspiration.
I have enjoyed your broadcasts, your writing, your humour, and intelligence for what feels like all of my life. I particularly like the way that your words involve me; you don’t make me feel that your expression is only for the more well-read or clever people amongst us.
So Clive, thank you. I will continue to read what you have left us , particularly your poetry. You will be greatly missed.
Dearest Clive, it was reading your books – specifically Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued To The Box – that made me want to know your writing better and resulting in my buying and reading all your other works. I wish I could have met you, but little chance of that now (I say little rather than no, because I’m holding out for the possibility that it could still happen).
Thanks for all the laughs.
Dear Clive, if I may be so forward
in proffering this salutation,
plus generic near-clichés toward
an attempted veneration,
of one whose works over time
have dazzled with their urbane style.
Like millions, I have been charmed;
through your example, armed
to strive for beauty to prevail.
Here’s to form, to wit, their blend,
a high mind put to fine ends…
oh what a gush is this ‘Fan-Mail’.
A toast to you then, and your race
and your reliably unreliable grace.
I clearly need to pull my finger out and read more of your work, but for now, let me say how much i’ve enjoyed your various TV appearances. Two favourites: Your time with Katherine Hepburn and and your warm and wry, travel documentary when visiting Japan The latter is something I re-watch every year.
As one of the few westerners to find his way on to Takeshi’s Castle, I salute you and thank you. We’re lucky to have archives in both print and film where we can continue to enjoy the sound of your voice.
My name is Ben and I am ‘just’ 35 years old. I was ‘just’ a little boy when you were in your prime but still remember seeing you on TV and hearing you on the radio many times throughout my childhood. Maybe I was a teen actually. Who knows.
Like Ant & Dec you will forever be mixed up with Clive Anderson but, let’s be honest – you are the BETTER Clive and we all love you for it. My Dad loves you and I bet he will write one of these messages too. So, you see, you have touched peoples lives. I feel quite sad as I type this message to a man I have never met (my Dad has – I am sure he will fill you in with THOSE details somewhat) but a man who has had a big enough impact on my life, earlier years, and now latter years through your poetry and god damned brutally beautiful honesty through your cancer.
The other day I was in my car when something came on the radio. A ladies voice. It sounded like, well guess who? You probably won’t guess – why would you? Margarita Pracatan or, to give her the FULL title “MARG-AHHHH-RIIIIITTA….PRAC-A-TAAAAAAAAAN”. I literally spent the next 25 minutes of my journey home happily repeating this pronunciation to myself.
So what am I saying. I don’t know what to say so I am beating around the bush aren’t I? My points are these:
What a wonderful idea from Isabel to write these letters to you.
You have blessed so many of us with your good humour, education and fantasticness over the years.
Your bravery and inspiration of recent months will live on forever.
And I thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all of those things.
Growing up in the 1980s, I knew you as the Australian guy on the end-of-the-year TV shows whose jokes I was too young to understand.
It was only in my 20s that I was introduced to your work as a critic in The Observer, through your books such as The Crystal Bucket, and your scintillating memoirs.
Your writing has since then been an influence upon me. It’s always a delight to read something of yours or to see you on TV or hear you on the radio.
I don’t want to miss this opportunity, but I have little to say that hasn’t been said, most notably by Isabel herself.
You made me laugh; you helped start a romance with Australia and its culture (such as it is) that survives to this day; your Unreliable Memoirs filled me with joy and inspiration; you and Dave Allen made me see that not all men my father’s age are arses.
For all those things, I thank you. The world will be a poorer place without you in it.
Respect, affection, and a wish for all the opiates you need for a peaceful ending.
I started watching your TV show as a teenager. A black and white portable in my bedroom, volume turned down so my parents couldn’t know I wasn’t asleep. The first crush of many on a witty, erudite, urbane man. And I’ve been hooked on your writing ever since, delighting in every new book, every new direction. Thank you. Thank you for the laughter, for the avenues of interest you’ve opened, for the thoughts you’ve provoked, for the tears that have sprung reading your latest poems.
We met once, briefly. I came to see you speak a few years ago and you signed a book for me. Despite your illness there was a spark that I recognised from my teenage years watching you on that portable TV. I didn’t hesitate to come to hear you again, a couple of weeks later. I discovered ‘A Point Of View’ and devoured the downloads and the written version. God, you could write 1500 words on drain cleaners and make it unforgettable reading.
You’ve made my world infinitely richer and for that, I can never thank you enough.
I am born of a tough working class background but have done relatively well for myself.
My father was clever but never got the chance to stay at school.
He was tough and not often fair and hard to get along with but we could commune on clever, funny things like your tv shows. This led me to read you wherever I could find you and I always heard your clever and kind voice when I read you. I have always enjoyed reading you and your voice will stay me as I head off now into the Japanese Maple.
I hope it makes you happy to know you have enjoyment, pleasure and inspiration to people.
Gra is siochain (Love and peace in Irish)
When I lost my Dad, I looked for clues to secrets he may have left behind. To find out how he really felt as his life came to an end. Then I realised that little bursts of his feelings were with me and came to me all the time in conversations I remembered, places we visited and music we listened to. They were all our secrets. I don’t like to see people described as ‘brave’ or ‘fighting’- what choice do they have? but I would like you to know that when I remember words you have written and telly shows you have made – they will always be our secrets with you x
My son is nine. In a few years the lucky sod will get to read your writing for the first time, an experience that I remember had me laughing so hard I thought I was going to vomit. I am still, thirty years later, unable to look a vichyssoise in the eye. And I’m still laughing.
As I grew older, of course, I realised that it wasn’t just the funny that you did with such breathtaking ease, but the wise and the beautiful too. And if I can pass on to my son some small appreciation of the importance of these things, I’ll feel that I have, in part at least, fulfilled my parental duty.
Dammit, you know what to do with words, and producing so many that have given such pleasure to countless people seems to me as good a way as any to spend a life.
Thank you for them, and thanks too, in advance, for being an invaluable part of my son’s education.
Twice this has happened. I’ve bought a paperback and sneaked a quick post purchase read.
The Mint by TE Lawrence bought mid 90’s in Waterstones Covent Garden. The book starts with our hero sweating in an RAF recruitment office. The office in question was the very same building I had just bought the book from.
Foyles: I buy the latest C James – something I have been doing since unreliable Memoirs. Fancy a cheeky pint at lunchtime as tourists are want to do. Dip into latest purchase which describes vivid ale soaked lunchtimes of wit and wisdom in the Pillars of Hercules. Notorious drinking den of the mid seventies Soho media set. I discover I am sitting in the very pub!
When I was a teenager my then boyfriend and I obsessed over the lyrics to your songs on Beautiful Stranger. Sadly I don’t have the LP (as they were then called); it was lost somewhere in my life. As I read your recent poems I am reminded of your Rider to the World’s End.
Love to you
My strongest memories of you are from telly in the 80s when I watched your programme of clips and adverts. I remember laughing at your witty comments, especially about the Endurance tests when I’d sit cringing at the ridiculous trials the Japanese contestants put themselves through.
Your charismatic personality produced many a smile to me and others with your writing and TV work and I thank you for sharing your clever and funny take on our weird world.
I love you!
You inspired me to become a journalist with your witty TV reviews that I have read and reread. (An expedition up Everest: “Sherpas fell loyally into crevasses. Hoo woo. Bong.”)
I looked forward to your reviews of the year, loved your chat shows with Jonathan Miller, Vitaly Vitaliev, William Shatner and Donny Osmond. There was, is, nothing like them.
Lots and lots of love
I’ve been giving this some thought since Isabel launched this idea yesterday. Like so many others here, my earliest memories of you are from your TV shows, a highlight of my student ’80s, then your TV criticism, your journalism and your autobiographical writing, and then, most recently, your poetry. You are a writer and communicator of the highest calibre, and I can’t even begin to do you justice – I feel that I have hardly even scratched the surface of your work.
But what I want to say is this: I will not presume to know whether you should choose to go quietly into that good night or to rage as hard as you bloody well can. Whichever it is, I hope that you have many, many good days before the night falls, with those you love and who love you, aware – perhaps just at the back of your mind or out of the corner of your eye – that you are loved and valued and appreciated by so many that you will never know.
And I also hope that someone will come along here and tell you a good joke or three, to leaven the deep and meaningfuls!
With love and thanks,
It’s easy to put off writing to those you admire until you have concocted something as lucid or concise or elegant as you might wish, but since I’ll never have the perfect words to sum up my gratitude and pleasure in your writing, I’ll make do with this brief note – typed in haste but deeply felt. Your insight, whether sharp or kind or both, your humour and your unique voice in poetry and in prose has made and will go on to make my days richer, wiser and happier.
As an Australian I have often read your earlier works about life growing up in God’s own country and wondered why I ever left and why I have so much trouble getting back there. I haven’t read any of your recent works, but I chanced upon your interview on the Andrew Marr show and was again proud of you, impressed by your prose and that you are an Australian. You are true blue and a hero to those of us battling to make it over here in the old mother country.
As with so many of my generation, I grew up watching you on tv – whether ringing in the New Year, or traveling to exotic destinations I could only dream of (incidentally, you also introduced me to the joys of Lionel Richie’s music video for ‘Hello’; I still can’t watch this without seeing your face wrinkle in mischievous delight). Later, then, I began to read your words, which I have returned to time and time again – I don’t think there’s another author whose work so clearly illustrates the sheer excitement of the thing well said. But I cannot read those words without hearing the voice – that inimitable voice. It’s a voice I cannot imagine living without; thankfully I will never have to – nestled deeply in my mind’s ear, a mere glance at your sparkling poetry or prose is all that is needed to bring those magical tones to life. Thank you for everything, and much love,
You made me want to be a writer. You made me want to read everything you’d written, so I did, and you introduced me to my favourite authors, Your ink lives on, spawning and birthing new readers and writers.
[…] will be the last of Clive’s poems, I guess. I’ve spoken before about how much I love his writing, in all its astonishingly varied forms. This is a collection of poems I’ll return to again and […]
Clive, I just want to say thank you for all the laughs. Fifty years ago my mother tuned her kitchen wireless to Radio 4 and *actually* ripped the dial off. Your voice was the background to my childhood. Well, you and “The Archers” but I’ll happily leave them behind. r.
Clive, thank you for moving me and making me laugh so many times throughout my life. I giggled at Endurance clips as a child, devoured your essays as a twenty-something, and still watch your wonderful Letter documentaries on YouTube.
Thank you. And, by the way, re: Pearl Harbour, you were right, Gore was wrong.