Originally posted on Pembroke College News, April 15, 2016
Pembroke today welcomed some of the best and brightest of the literary world as Clive James (1964) launched his new books Collect Poems, 1958-2015 and Gate of Lilacs: a verse commentary on Proust.
The Master first welcomed everyone who had gathered in the Old Library to celebrate James’s work, these included respected members of the literary community including Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, playwright Tom Stoppard, journalist Andrew Marr, and novelist Michael Frayn as well as Pembroke English Literature Students, Fellows, and staff.
Paul Baggaley from Picador then took to the floor to read a letter from the poet Don Paterson, James’s editor. The letter reflected humorously on their friendship and remarked that we are the lucky ones to be born at the same time as James. Paterson’s letter also assured the listeners that these were not the last words of James just yet.
James himself captivated the audience by reading three poems that he has written since publishing his books. These included one that he described as being his epitaph which he imagined on a bronze plaque in Sydney Harbour bay, where he wishes his ashes to be scattered if his family can overcome the Australian customs’ dislike of importing organic material. He finished by reading an excerpt from his book on Proust. In doing so he remarked that “Proust was dying all his life, I’ve only been doing that a couple of years”.
The last words went to James’s long-time friend Ann Baer. Baer, at 102, empathised with James’s feeling of death looking over his shoulder and made it clear that at a time like that it is all about the small pleasures in life such as good poetry written by a friend.