Clive James

Diary – 26 May 2012

This month has been the launching season for my new collection of poems, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower. Not many younger people, I have been discovering, know what a flak tower is, or was. Perhaps I should have called the book something else. One of the poems in the book is called ‘Whitman and the Moth’: it might have been wiser to call the book that. Early in the launching season I was asked to read the poem aloud on that excellent radio programme Front Row. The poem is a meditation on the old poet at the point of his death and I’m afraid I found the right voice for it exactly.


I have been exhausted for more than two years now, by illness. Leukaemia is practically the least of my ailments. In a lull between bad stretches the Saturday edition of the Telegraph kindly asked me to review television. That was about a year ago and we have now completed my first year on the case, so this month has been my first annual holiday. I tried to time it so that the book launch could fit into the slot. When you are short of energy you have to ration it. So far I have managed to look busy by doing one thing at a time. Put it all together and it’s a decent fraction of the work I did before I fell ill. I still feel guilty, however, that hours go by when I don’t touch the keyboard.


I doubt if illness improves the concentration. Though its individual perceptions take thought, a critical column is comparatively easy to construct because it is cumulative. This column you are reading now counts as a general column and it will have to have an argument.

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