Clive James 'saying goodbye' through his poetry
- 27 May 2014
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Terminally ill author and critic Clive James says he has "started saying goodbye" through his poetry.
The 74-year-old, who has leukaemia and emphysema, has written of having "lungs of dust" in his most recent work, Sentenced To Life.
"Inevitably, you start saying goodbye," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"I like to think that I hit a sort of plangent tone. A sort of last post, a recessional tone. But the trick is not to overdo it."
He continued: "As my friend PJ O'Rourke told me, 'you're going to have to soft pedal this death door stuff, Clive, because people are going to get impatient.'"
Born in Australia, James moved to England in 1961, and rose to prominence as a literary critic and television columnist.
He later became well-known for his TV work, including Clive James On Television, in which he delivered sardonic commentary on international programming, such as the Japanese gameshow Endurance.
A successful author and poet, he was nominated for last year's Costa prize for his translation of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy.
He was diagnosed with leukaemia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2010 and has been close to death on several occasions.
But, he told presenter James Naughtie, he maintains a positive outlook.
"It's important not to be morbid," he said.
"The secret there is to keep a sense of proportion. I'm at the hospital two or three times a week usually and... if you hang around a hospital long enough, you'll see things that'll remind you that you've had a lucky life. If you can see at all, you've had a lucky life.
He added: "I'm getting near to what my friend [film director] Bruce Beresford calls the departure lounge - but I've got a version of it that doesn't hurt, so I may as well enjoy myself as long as I can."
James has continued to write, and said he was putting the finishing touches to a book of essays about poetry, and why it has exerted such a pull on him throughout his life.
He joked that if he was to "drop off the twig", the book could be published posthumously, "which is good for the family finances".
Although his energy levels have dropped and his voice is more hesitant than before, James will make a rare stage appearance on Saturday 31 May at London's Australian and New Zealand literature festival.
He intends to recite passages from The Divine Comedy and a poem he wrote for Anzac Day. "But," he added, "I'll probably spend most of the time talking about Game Of Thrones".
James also admitted he was mourning for Australia, which he will never see again, as his lung condition means he cannot travel by air.
However, he said: "I have my memories of growing up in Australia, and those memories become clearer all the time. In fact, I'm writing about them all the time in my poetry.
"The mind is quite a wonderful thing. It can translate past experience into immediate experience. I practically hallucinate the sheer beauty of Sydney Harbour. It couldn't be more vivid in actuality than it is in my recollection.
"So, no, I don't despair although I do miss it."
As the wide-ranging interview concluded, James said he was "content", despite his recent setbacks.
"My disasters haven't been that bad, even the personal ones," he said. "My family is still together.
"Even with my health, things could have been worse. It could have hurt, for example, and it didn't. So I haven't got all that much to be miserable about.
"I like to think I have a sunny nature, but a sunny nature doesn't last long if you're in real pain. I've just been lucky."