The Modern Day Author Refuses to Die

Clive James came to my attention as the English Language host of a Japanese game show back in the 1980s. In those pre-internet days it took me a while to connect him to his writings. James' fiction and non-fiction was, and is, a delight. Full of playfulness and intelligence his prose style was often cutting and hilarious at the same time.

I'm also hugely thankful to him for his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Like many people I had enjoyed my descent through the inferno, slogged my way up Mount Purgatory and then gave up at the gates of paradise. James managed to translate the text in such a way that I could not only finish the last two books but enjoy the scenery.

More recently, I became aware of his poetry and also his impending death. The end of Clive James was being written about at least two years ago and his final book of poems, Sentenced to Life,  along with his excellent Poetry Notebook, suggested a man leaving us while still in full control of his literary ability.

Except he didn't die and now we have a new, final book of poems, Injury Time, which is as good, if not better, than its predecessor. I'm not kidding myself that he's going to be around forever, or even that he has much time at all. But I am still holding out a hope that we might get more from this extraordinary man.

Postscript: Just as I was about to post this, I heard an old podcast from Radio 4 called 'Pete and Clive'. Yet another corner of my great ignorance was revealed as I listened and learnt about Clive James songwriting partnership with Pete Atkins. James was the lyricist, and he made the point in the documentary that this meant writing in a manner different from poetry. Poetry, he said, carries its own music. There is also a structural difference which shows itself in the greater number of end stopped lines in lyrics. Singers have to breathe.

The songs James and Atkins wrote are beautiful but they haven't yet worked their magic on me. I suspect this is because of Pete Atkins voice (a little too precise and English for me) and because I'm an idiot who takes a while to fully appreciate something good.

Either way, this body of work needs exploring. When Clive James does go, it will be yet another reason to miss him.


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