John Clarke (1948-2017)

Photo via Sydney Morning Herald

Credit Paul Kalina

The Board of Australian Poetry notes with great sadness the passing of our Patron, John Clarke.

John’s love of poetry was ever alive.

His ear was so sharp for the clan dialects of politicians, officials, and “celebrities”. Also for the words of the ordinary woman or man in the street, or on the land. He diarized so many of the voices of the times.

And then there is his own voice. That voice. Lacking modulation, sitting pretty much in the one register, all the while detonating insight. Surely it echoes what he called “the soft drone in Celtic music.”

And in conversation, Chris Wallace-Crabbe recalls this recent “…early summer, when I last saw him, for morning coffee at his local in Fitzroy. He chatted about W.H. Auden. John was a fan of Auden’s poetry, not least because he’d been taught English at school by a man who, in his youth, had taken part in Auden and MacNeice’s northern wanderings – famously recorded in their Letters from Iceland (1937). Auden’s poetry, among others, remained a presence for him. “

John’s own verse flowered satirically in two invented anthologies. The second of these, The Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse, ranges all the way from “Upon Julia’s Speedos” by Bob Herrick to the larrikin modernity of Jems Choice and Dylan Thompson.

John’s generosity to the cause of poetry in Australia was unfailing.

We thank him deeply for his support over many years.

To Helen, and to their daughters, Lorin and Lucia, we can say, only inadequately, how sorry we feel.

As Michael Sharkey says: “ We owe it to him to celebrate the opportunity to have lived at a time to relish his humane and generous spirit. I can think of few Australian writers who were so all-round decent… God bless him and his family.”