Five years ago the famous Australian broadcaster and poet was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. We all know we are going to die and often overlook many things in our lives, but when the end is near we confront our demons, review our life and remember precious moments. In Injury Time James explores many aspects of his rich and interesting past and makes an art of death. The poet opens a window into his life where we delight with his portrayal of precious moments of beauty and love.
The important thing in his poetry is that he does not feel sorry for himself nor dwells on the knowledge that his days are numbered. On the contrary his poems are a song to life.
James remembers, assesses and rejoices reliving the many things that brought joy to his life, like his family, music and art. With an incredible spirit he makes death look beautiful, writing:
“The end of life is like a flower’s bud
Formed from the code of its unfolding bloom,
Which carries, in its turn, the burst of light
That lies ahead, the blinding crack of doom
When petals in the rain are shaken dry
By the whisper of the Gardener in White.”
James’s poems are worked to perfection, most of them have ten syllables per line; without doubt the poet has a talent for metre and rhythm.
Art, music and its creation has played a very important part in James’s life and many poems deal with not only the art of creation but also that of its creators. In “Stroking Her Feet to Opus 131” James ponders about Beethoven, his death and the magical Ninth Symphony. He says:
“Rehearsing this quartet, Beethoven heard
Nothing at all. He checked the players by
Watching their bows. He barked the odd harsh word
But couldn’t hear that either, and yet I
Am blissed out once again by what he found
When searching in his world without sound
There, near the end. The Ninth was done. To die.”
The poet’s sense of humour is much alive as he is, a fact that tells us about his resilience and ability to wait for death, not only with humour, but also with courage and dignity. You must have a very special spirit to make fun of your own diseases, in Head Wound, he writes:
“The carcinoma left a bullet hole
High on my forehead. It looked like a tap
By a pro hit-man. In fact the killer’s role
Was played not by a pistol-totting chap
But by a pretty female whose light touch
Sliced out the blob and pierced a flap of skin
Into the gap. It didn’t hurt that much.
When finally the pit was filled in
A pink yarmulke of Elastoplast
Topped off the job. The whole thing happened fast.
James, with his knowledge of art and writing, is very inspiring, for example he alludes about the writings of Laforgue, Rosard and about various pieces of music. He is also an observer of nature and his descriptions are vivid.
The poet also writes about his medicines, like Ibrutinib. In a poem by the name of this medicine, with poignant and profound words he touches the reader’s core; it shakes you and makes you appreciate every day we are alive and the little things that fills our days.
Although many poems in Injury Time are a reflection of the poet’s courage and sense of fun, we also encounter sadness, such as when he imagines the return of his ashes to Australia after his death.
Injury Time is a book to learn and reflect about life and death, but also about people, writers, events, musicians; they all parade through the pages where a man demonstrates how to live and die well.
Dr Beatriz Copello, is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.