January 6, 2016

Clive James: "I've got a lot done since my death"

Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’
Two years after reports suggesting his imminent death, Clive James still has plenty of life left in him. Ahead of a new collection of poetry next month, the polymath and former Observer TV critic discusses the poems written to his wife, his place in history and ‘dying by inches

When Clive James, who is 75 and in poor health, says “the end is nigh, but not that nigh”, he’s defying gravity, as usual. It’s something he’s got rather good at lately.

About two years ago, prematurely, the world’s media gave James the last rites: with valedictory interviews, hushed bulletins, sombre satellite appearances, and Australian TV anchors flying to his doorstep. “My obituaries were so fabulous,” he twinkles in an opening gambit, “I felt more or less obliged to walk the plank.” .....
That was a dark season for a writer who instinctively prefers to shine. When we met in 2013, he was living in a kind of internal exile, from family, from wellbeing, and even from his beloved mother country. Darkest of all, he was putting the finishing touches to a translation of The Divine Comedy while suffering a fate that Dante might plausibly have inflicted on a recent admission to one of hell’s training circles: leukaemia, emphysema, and a mixed bag of carcinomas.
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With a new book of poems in the offing,[Sentenced to Life} the conversation defaulted to his afterlife, a subject he treats with characteristically sardonic merriment. “I’ve got a lot done since my death,” he says.......As well as publishing his verse translation of The Divine Comedy and a collection of essays, Poetry Notebook: 2006-2014 (Picador), with another volume in the works, he has made so many “farewell appearances” (first in London and then at the Cambridge Union) that his friend, PJ O’Rourke, has advised him to “soft-pedal this death’s door stuff because people will get impatient”.

Breaking cover in the closing poem of this collection, he admits himself to be “dying by inches”. This, more than the ironic bravura of his latest platform appearances, seems to represent the real Clive James, a writer whose commanding voice contains a constant variety of colour and tone. Regretting his frailty, he has become, he says, “the echo of the man you knew”. Momentarily sombre, he agrees that death, as much as love, is the true lyric inspiration. “I think I’m writing better now than I ever did. That’s where lyricism comes from. The love lyric is always full of approaching sadness.”

From his poem Event Horizon

What is it worth, then, this insane last phase
When everything about you goes downhill?
This much: you get to see the cosmos blaze
And feel its grandeur, even against your will,
As it reminds you, just by being there,
That it is here we live, or else nowhere.
Posted by Jill Fallon at January 6, 2016 1:43 PM | Permalink