Poetry: Daily Express review | clivejames.com
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Sentenced To Life: Poems 2011-2014 review: This collection reflects the tedium of illness

To borrow a familiar line from one of Dylan Thomas's most famous poems, Clive James is not “going gentle into that good night”.

by Paul Callan
Daily Express, Fri, Apr 10, 2015

“Clive James’s wit shines through on every page”

Sentenced To Life: Poems 2011-2014

By Clive James, Picador, £14.99

Brilliant manipulator of language that he is, James is celebrating the joys and riches of life.

He does so despite writing in the shadow of death, having been diagnosed with leukaemia in 2010.

Thus his poems have a poignancy and a moving recognition of the finality of life that all must face.

James is best known for the wit of his journalism and his sharp-edged programmes on the box.

I first met him when we were regular contributors to now sadly vanished humour magazine Punch (he once described me as having the literary sensibilities of a vampire bat).

There, his writing shone with originality and he would light up the office with his antics.

This collection of his poems reflects the tedium of illness.

In Elementary Sonnet, he writes of being “Tired out from getting up and getting dressed / I lie down for a while to get some rest.”

He ends with sadness: “Thanks for the heartbeat which still lets me live: / A consolation even now, so late - / When soon my poor bed will be smooth and straight.”

In Sentenced To Life, James expresses the understandable regret that he can no longer return to his Australian homeland and reflects on the reality of being “Here in the English autumn, but my mind / Basks in the light I never left behind.”

In Japanese Maple, he writes of a tree planted by his daughter at his Cambridge home.

Come autumn: “Its leaves will turn to flame. / What I must do / Is live to see that. That will end the game / For me, though life continues all the same.”

There is humour in The Emperor's Last Words in which, after “Another bout of pneumonia / Damned near nailed me”, he sits on a low brick wall, his hair newly trimmed.

He observes: “But the haircut is successful / Completing my resemblance to Buzz Aldrin / On the surface of Jupiter.”

Laughs are found, too, in the poem Nature Programme: “The female panda is on heat / For about five minutes a year / And the male, no sprinter at the best of times / Hardly ever gets there / Before she cools off again.”

He writes of albatross chicks “in training for their very first take-off” and with neat observation ends: “Doomed to the atrophy of lust / Lurching with their flippers out / Dragged under as they strain for flight / They could be you / Wonder of nature that you were.”

Clive James is courageously fighting his dark future with that most powerful of weapons: poetry.

He may lose the battle but his words will linger.