Clive James: Terminally ill author and poet says he has ‘started saying goodbye’ in his work

The Australian writer's terminal health has prompted a new tone and outlook

Poet, broadcaster and journalist Clive James has said that his terminal medical condition has led him to “start saying goodbye” through his poetry.

Now 74, he was diagnosed with leukaemia and emphysema in 2010.

"Inevitably, you start saying goodbye and I like to think I hit a sort of plangent tone – a recessional tone," he said.

"But the trick is not to overdo it, and don’t do it too long. As my friend once said to me, 'You’re going to have to soft peddle this death stuff, Clive, because people are going to get impatient.'"

The Australia-born writer has come close to death a number of times, yet he refuses to yet his condition influence his impressively positive state of mind. If anything, his health has made him more grateful for what he has.

"It’s important not to be morbid and the secret there is to keep a sense of proportion," he said on a BBC Radio 4 interview this morning.

"I’m at the hospital two to three times a week and if you hang out at a hospital long enough you’ll see things that will remind that you had a lucky life. If you can see at all, you’ve had a lucky life. I don’t complain; I’m lucky.

"I’m getting near what my friend calls the ‘departure lounge’, but I’ve got a version of it that doesn’t hurt, so I may as well enjoy myself while I can."

 

He is still working on new material (including on a poetry book that he jokes will "help family finances" if he "drops off the twig", as he puts it) and will make a rare stage appearance on Saturday 31 May in London at the Australian and New Zealand literature festival, during which he will possibly recite a poem he wrote on Anzac Day and an extract from his translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

However, there is one activity that his health prevents him from doing – travelling home to his beloved Australia. There isn’t enough oxygen in the cabin air on an airliner and to go by ship would take too long as he needs transfusions every three weeks.

“On the other hand I have my memories of growing up in Australia and those memories become clearer all the time,” he said.

“The mind is quite a wonderful thing; it can translate experience into immediate experience. I practically hallucinate the sheer beauty of Sydney Harbour, it couldn’t be more beautiful in reality as it is in my mind. So no, I don’t despair.”

He describes himself as “content” and says that he considers himself fortunate, despite his ailing health.

“My disasters haven’t been that bad, even the personal ones,” he said.

“My family are still together, they’re all here in fact, in this town. Things could be worse. With my health, things could have been worse. It could have hurt for example, so I haven’t got all that to be miserable about. I like to think I’ve got a sunny nature but a sunny nature doesn’t last for long if you’re in real pain. I’ve just been lucky.”

Read more: Clive James: "I'd like to write a play before I die"
Book of the Week: James' Divine Comedy translation
Clive James 'very pleased' with Costa Award
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?