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Clive James’ friends pay a tribute

Cambridge Arts Round Up Episode 43 

In this edition Simon Bertin joins Guardian, Observer and Cambridge Critique Journalist Anne Garvey and husband Steven Brown with Phil Day, who has spent a career in government and the film business training youngsters,  to pay a tribute to the career of television critic and poet Clive James. Anne was a family friend and neighbour of one of Cambridge’s best loved humorists.

Reflections in an Extended Kitchen 

Late summer charms the birds out of the trees
On to our lawn, where the cat gets them.
Aware of this but not unmanned, Matisse
Makes the whole room as sexy as the girl. 

‘Distributed voluptuousness,’ he said,
Matching the decor to her lazy gaze. 

Just book me on the first flight to Morocco.
You see what I see? Feathers on the grass. 

Nothing so sordid in Henri’s back yard 

Where coloured shapes may touch, but not to crush.
Look at that death-trap out there, lined with roses!
We grew a free-fire zone with fertilizer. 

Caught on the ground like the Egyptian Air Force
A wrecked bird on its back appears outraged: 

It could have been a contender. What a world
Of slam-bang stuff to float one fantasy 

Amongst her figured curtains, blobs for flowers,
Lolling unlocked in filmy harem pants! 

Where did we see her first? That place they called
Leningrad. She looked like History’s cure, 

And even he cou1d use that. When he turned
An artful blank back on his wife and child
They were arrested, leaving him to paint 

In peace a world with no Gestapo in it – 

A dream that came true. Agonies recede,
And if his vision hid harsh facts from him
It sharpens them for us. Best to believe 

He served an indispensable ideal: 

Douceur de vivre on a heroic scale –
Heaven on Earth, the Land of Oobladee, 

Cloud Nine and Shangri-La hooked to the wall
As bolt holes for the brain, square wishing wells. 

Suppose that like his brush my pen could speak
Volumes, our cat might stay in shape to pounce,
But only on the arm of that soft chair 

You sit in now and where you would lie lulled, 

An ageless, in-house odalisque couchee 

Never to be less languorous than this, 

Always dissolving in the air around you
Reality’s cruel purr with your sweet whisper – 

And nothing would be terrible again,
Nor ever was. The fear that we once felt
For daughters fallen ill or just an hour 

Late home: it never happened. That dumb bird
Stayed in its tree and I was true to you. 

Clive James

The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered 

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased. 

In vast quantities it has been remaindered. 

Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse, 

My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles 

In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs. 

Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities, 

Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews 

Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book – 

For behold, here is that book 

Among these ranks and banks of duds, 

These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs. 

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice. 

It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke. 

What avail him now his awards and prizes, 

The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice? 

Knocked into the middle of next week 

His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs, 

The Edsels of the world of movable type, 

The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys. 

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper 

Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice 

Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook, 

His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence, 

Is there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots  

One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment, 

And (oh, this above all) his sensibility, 

His sensibility and its hair-like filaments, 

His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs, 

A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
‘My boobs will give everyone hours of fun.’ 

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent 

In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy, 

Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error –
Nothing to do with merit. 

But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment. 

Clive James

Listen to the podcast Cambridge Arts Round Up Episode 43

Young Lady in Black 

The Russian poets dreamed, but dreamed too soon,
Of a red-lipped, chalk-white face framed in black fur: 

Symbol of what their future would be like –
Free, lyrical and elegant, like her. 

In the love songs of their climacteric 

I met you before I met you, and you were
The way you are now in these photographs 

Your father took outside the Hermitage. 

You stand on snow, and more snow in the air
Arrives in powdered form like rice through space.
It hurts to know the colour of your hair 

Is blacker than your hat. Such is the price
Figments exact by turning real: we care 

Too much. I too was tricked by history, 

But at least I saw you, close enough to touch,
Even as time made touch impossible. 

The poets never met their richly dressed
Princess of liberty. The actual girl 

Was lost to them as all the rest was lost: 

Only their ghosts attended the snowfall 

The camera stopped when you stood in the square, 

Fiction made fact at long last and too late. 

My grief would look like nothing in their eyes.
I hear them in the photographs. The breath 

Of sorrow stirs the cold dust while hope dies
The worst way, in the vision of rebirth, 

As by whole generations they arise 

From pitted shallows in the permafrost

And storm the Winter Palace from the sky.
Each spirit shivering in a bead of light, 

They fall again for what they once foretold – 

For you, dawn burning through its cloak of night.
They miss what I miss, and a millionfold. 

It all came true, it’s there in black and white: 

But your mouth is the colour of their blood. 

Clive James

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