Monday, January 12, 2009
I almost sent Mick Imlah a mail today, since my pocket had taken a pounding over Christmas and I wanted to earn eighty quid, or whatever the going rate is, for a short review. But now this evening I read he has died, of motor neurone disease. My house is full of books with scraps of paper with his writing on them. He was a most kindly and considerate editor, letting me into his pages on the slenderest of pretexts (on my part) way back in the lifetime-away-now 90s and humouring my suggestions ever since; and publishing so many other people I know, too – always open, always receptive. I once had a long conversation with someone I thought was Imlah at a reading in London to which I’d invited him. Good of you to come, I told him, and nice to meet you at last. Except it wasn’t him and my presumably nonplussed interlocutor didn’t put me right.
But most of all he was the author of The Lost Leader, the difficult second collection and unholy clamjamfrie of polyphonic Scottishness (and rugby players) that took him twenty years to come up with. Here is ‘Precious Little’:
By the shore of Lake Constance I sat down and prayed
That your health should not collapse in an African swamp.
I found the name you carved before I was born
On the Tower of Pisa, and chiselled mine beneath it.
When our hotel in Brussels burned to the ground,
I fled with nothing but my bullfinch and your portrait, dear.
Two dreams: that you have come home at last
With your throat slit, and walk past me without speaking;
Or, as I roam the poor quarters of Mecca or Medina
In my loose nightgown, exhausted with yearning,
I cry aloud, ‘Does he care for me?’ –
And think I hear an angel whisper, ‘Yes’.
I think this is the first time this blog has had to record the death of someone I knew, even if only to correspond with. I do so with sadness and anger at the cruel loss of one so young.