Artist Claerwen James on growing up with an extraordinary father – and how she bonded with him in his final months when they compiled an anthology of his favourite verse
Ten months before his death last year at the age of 80, Clive James underwent an eight-hour operation to remove a tumour on his face. Already very frail – he had been suffering from leukaemia for a decade – afterwards it took him almost a week to emerge fully into consciousness. “And even then, he was foggy,” says his daughter, the artist Claerwen James. “He couldn’t really see, which meant he couldn’t really read – and that had never been the case before.” For her father, this was not a small thing, whatever the size of his other problems. Words were his life raft.
But all was not lost. “The resource that he did have was the poetry he knew,” she says. “And he wanted to hear it. He’d recite a bit – sometimes, he’d have only a verse – and whoever was sitting with him would look up the next part, and read it to him. He loved this, and then he would often say a little about it. He’d tell us when he had first heard the poem, or point out which bit was most difficult to say.” Together, he and his readers got into a rhythm. “We started writing down all the poems he wanted to hear, and the relevant anecdotes, and in this way a manuscript began to emerge without him willing it.” If this felt at the time like a small miracle, it was also, in context, perfectly ordinary: “He was always working on something. There was literally never a moment when he wasn’t – and now, there was this. A pile of poems.”
Related: Clive James – a life in pictures
He was so much fun to be around. Everything was interesting. Everything was materialContinue reading...