obituaries: Gavin Ewart

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The Independent Online
Gavin Ewart and I were a simultaneously precocious pair, writes David Gascoyne [further to the obituary by Anthony Thwaite, 24 October]. We were born in the same year in the middle of the First World War. We first met in 1933. Early that year Geoffrey Grigson had founded New Verse and began to hold parties for his most promising contributors - among others Norman Cameron, Kathleen Raine and Charles Madge (for me the most memorable) - in the garden of his house in Keats Grove, Hampstead.

At that time Gavin Ewart was still at Wellington, where he became friends with the sympathetically subversive Esmond Romilly, nephew of Clementine Churchill, who absconded from the militaristic school soon after, to found the riot-rousing magazine Out of Bounds, which he distributed to most of the public schools in Britain from a shabby old banger. Esmond found a base in a room above David Archer's Parton Street Bookshop, at that time a rendezvous for most poets and writers of a definitely left-wing tendency. This I mention because of the significant fact that Gavin was seldom if ever to be seen there after he had left Wellington and occasionally came up to London. Not that Gavin could for a moment have been suspected of harbouring Conservative leanings. He had continued to be entirely apolitical. He would satirise the Lefties of the day for the solemnly pompous earnestness of their dedication to the Party.

I have on my favourite shelf the paperback of Late Pickings (1987) which Gavin Ewart inscribed for me. I wish I could quote from such superb examples of his maturest vein as "Making Love to Women", in which Auden, Spender, Isherwood and Yeats are cited in the 14 lines of what does not appear to be a sonnet. "Putney OAPs in 1983" comments compassionately on a scene of mindless violence that the media have made increasingly popular since the end of the Thatcher decade. "Advertising Elegiacs" recalls the early favourite celebrating "Love at the Office".

Sadly, the third part of this collection is devoted to obituary verse of a characteristically mordant order. Saddest of all is "Shall I Die? (A Critical Exercise)". No doubt he will regard his own funeral with a straight- faced incipient hilarity.