2011 commenced with an end. Three happy years over at New Welsh Review. In the trenches during a recession – and, in many ways, having among the very best times of my professional life. It’s rare I’ve left behind anything positive – and when I was relatively fulfilled. But it was an empowering move – and necessary, too. Poems have been written. Some still abide, in the shadows. More importantly, there was all that thinking, that sense of freedom. A beautiful artists’ book – aptly titled Uncertain Territories – came out in March, the product of a collaboration with artist Mary Modeen. It’s a deluxe book, and you can’t buy it on Amazon, alas; Mary and the master printer who worked it up to its extraordinary loveliness are the reasons why it deserves to sell at a premium, rather than the efforts of this humble poet. I’ve been proud to be a part of some great events. I’ve continued my quest to become First Great Western’s (first ever) Gold Card Holder. (Only a few more years!) I’ve seen patient, splendid people receive, at last, the acclaim they deserve. Teaching is inspiring, I remember. I’ve taught some truly talented new and lovely poets – who’ve reminded me, once again, what it’s really all about: magic, romance. And now, close of the year, and I have something I’ve wanted for a while – a list. We’ve exciting plans for the years ahead at Parthian. Great times, and I hope you’ll come and share them with us. Our final title of this year is out now: Dannie Abse’s autobiography Goodbye, Twentieth Century. It’s brilliant, moving, hilarious – richly detailing an eventful life in Dannie’s stylish prose.
My grandmother died. But while it hurt like hell (we were close, so close), one understands the ol’ river that is life. We hear it, we hear it – when we’re not busy ignoring it. And after the grief comes the staggering gratitude for all the luck, the crazy luck of it all. And one can say, ‘It was all gravy, wasn’t it? For us. And all that time.’ But it isn’t always so.
Our friend, Kelly – the wife of my friend John – was an extraordinary person. Firstly, let me tell you now – somewhat shallow of me, I know – that she was a true Irish beauty, a knockout: long dark hair, a wide smile… But she also possessed an interior beauty. Witty, clever, eccentric, steel in her strength. She was genuine loveliness and true grit. And there in her eyes, something deeper again: the record of a pilgrim soul. We met her when she fell in love with John. They enjoyed marvellous interplay. John’s incredible sense of humour was matched in an ideal partner. They adored one another. But Kelly discovered, not long into their marriage, that she had cancer. She approached her illness with great dignity and courage. I remember her – kindly, but very firmly – swatting my emotion when we shared coffee and pastries one day. She had no time for such saccharin. A true fighter, she kept her paws up. But cancer is no respecter of love or value, and, tragically, in July of this year, Kelly lost her battle. The order of things seemed disturbed. It was incredible that someone young and utterly gorgeous and productive and so important to so many could be lost, and lost so ruthlessly. But it happened. I knew Kelly for too short a time. But she made a big impact. Such is the power of the rare person. You rocked, Kelly.
Let’s live our lives, friends. And live them well, and full.
*Signing off until the New Year.