Sunday, May 01, 2011

Clive James's leukemia battle

Luke Slattery in The Australian, April 30, 2011

CLIVE James, the expatriate Australian critic and poet, is battling leukemia.   
For six months, as editor of The Australian Literary Review, I've been trying to extract an essay from James, only to be politely rebuffed on grounds of ill health.
It was only after the culture writer David Free submitted an essay for this month's ALR on James's recent work that a picture began to emerge, from the lines of his own poetry, of not one but several life-threatening conditions.
Free notes that in a recent poem, Vertical Envelopment, James refers to hospitalisations for emphysema and a blood clot, and a diagnosis of leukemia.
So I wrote to James asking for details of his condition. "In January 2010, in Cambridge, I got hauled in for kidney failure," he replied. "I was immediately diagnosed for everything else as well, including several lung diseases and a version of leukemia that is supposed to develop slowly but in my case couldn't wait to get started, mainly in my lungs."
He is also serialising a poetry notebook for publication in book form a few years down the line - "if I am still around".

Before his illness James had started writing poems that, he tells me, "summed up themes I had been pursuing all my life". His struggle with illness and mortality served to deepen this contemplative mood. "I felt quite wise as I lay there taking pills," he offers.
Full story at The Australian.

1 comment:

Mark Hubbard said...

Bad, sad news indeed: James is my great humanist hero. The true Renaissance man.

And I'm heartened to see there's a Cutural Amnesia II possibly in the offering: the first series of essays remains one of my favourite reads, and should be on the syllabus of every high school.