The Australian poet and critic Clive James sadly passed away aged 80 earlier this week. His latest poetry collections look back over an extraordinarily rich life with a clear-eyed and unflinching honesty. His poem 'Japanese Maple' (first published in the New Yorker in 2014 and then Sentenced to Life) presents a poignant meditation on impending death, following his cancer diagnosis, and became global news events upon publication. Clive James was sadly close to death for several years and wrote about the experience in a series of deeply moving poems. In Sentenced to Life, he was clear-sighted as he faced the end, honest about his regrets. In Injury Time, he wrote about living well in the time remaining, focusing on the joys of family and art, and celebrating the immediate beauty of the world. In his last collection The River in the Sky, James was in ill health but high spirits. This long poem was animated by his recollection of what life was; as it resolves into a flowing stream of vivid images, his memories emotionally supercharged ‘by the force of their own fading’. As ever with James, his enthusiasm was contagious; he shared his wide interests with enormous generosity, making brilliant and original connections, in a wise and moving preparation for death. In The River in the Sky James concludes that he is only one bright spot in a galaxy of stars, he passes the torch to the poets of the future, to his young granddaughter, and to you, his reader. A bright light which will continue to shine.
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