Thursday, June 25, 2009

Poetry and Death

My aunt is in hospital seriously ill tonight in New South Wales, and I got an email from her husband, my uncle, asking me to get in touch with my parents who weren't easily contactable from Australia. She's been in a nursing home for a while, but has taken a turn for the worse. I'm hoping, for all their sakes, that she recovers. I last saw her many years ago, but she's a great woman.

Marjorie was a vociferous reader, though I doubt she's been able to read much these last few years, and so I think she'd appreciate that I was in Norwich at the Writing Festival there these last few days. I've had a wonderful week, soaking up readings by a range of excellent poets and fiction writers. I've been touched by the playful humour of my contemporary, the Chinese writer/film maker Zhu Wen, and the generosity of spirit of a wide range of poets, fiction writers and academics from elsewhere in the world. I'm sure I'll give them a fuller mention in the coming weeks.

And then, as we were in the day-glo Union bar, we heard the news that Michael Jackson had died, aged 50. He was due to play an unprecedented number of nights at the O2 in a few weeks, a series of gigs I always found it hard to believe he'd be able to complete from a standing start, but for him to die just before that happened is beyond anyone's worst imaginings. He's been there all my life of course, and all most of our lives, which is why, I think, despite the rumours and accusations of his private live (and clearly there's been something wrong with his relationships with his young friends, its just only that we'll never really know the truth of that), he was still so cherished. Add to that the remarkable longevity of his late 70s/early 80s music in memory and in the charts and its not too wrong to put his early death up there with Elvis, Lennon and Cobain. We'll know more details soon enough, I guess, but in the mean time, I'm sure the tabloids are devastated because the soap opera is over, his fans are devastated because they won't ever see him again, and I'm sad because I believe that he was one of the true greats, and they don't come along that often.

A sad coda to a lovely week, and yet poetry is no stranger to death and illness. Jackson's death, as with my aunt's hospitalisation gives a dark coda to the week. I'll sleep now, see what the morning brings.

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