Clive James is a writer. Whatever else he is, and he has been many things, he is always a writer first. I read him in the 70s when I was a boy; he wrote a column in ‘The Observer’. I read his collected television criticism when I was at university and then I read the first volume of his autobiography when it was published in 1982. He was a big presence on television in the 90s but this is the decade when I also read one of his novels. He has also published collections of his essays.
Now, I like his poetry. I especially like to hear him read his own poetry, which he does when he is interviewed on the radio. I can hear his Australian accent when I re-read the poems. ‘Event Horizon’ is a poem I keep returning to, after hearing him interviewed on BBC Radio Four by Andrew Marr. The television appearances may be gone but we still have the poems.
For years we fooled ourselves. Now we can tell
How everyone our age heads for the brink
Where they are drawn into the unplumbed well,
Not to be seen again. How sad, to think
People we once loved will be with us there
And we not touch them, for it is nowhere.
Never to taste again her pretty mouth!
It’s been forever, though, since last we kissed.
Shadows evaporate as they go south,
Torn, by whatever longings still persist,
Into a tattered wisp, a streak of air,
And then not even that. They get nowhere.
But once inside, you will have no regrets.
You go where no one will remember you.
You go below the sun when the sun sets,
And there is nobody you ever knew
Still visible, nor even the most rare
Hint of a face to humanise nowhere.
Are you to welcome this? It welcomes you.
The only blessing of the void to come
Is that you can relax. Nothing to do,
No cruel dreams of subtracting from your sum
Of follies. About those, at last, you care:
But soon you need not, as you go nowhere.
Into the singularity we fly
After a stretch of time in which we leave
Our lives behind yet know that we will die
At any moment now. A pause to grieve,
Burned by the starlight of our lives laid bare,
And then no sound, no sight, no thought. Nowhere.
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.
‘Event Horizon’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?