Way back in the 70s I was driving north on the M1 when the radio programme I was listening to in the car was interrupted for the announcement of the death of an American poet. (Would they make that interruption now? For the death of a writer?)
A cloud scuds across the sun. The landscape changes. This year, recently, Peter Porter, Alan Sillitoe, and now David Markson. You don’t have to have met them, known them personally; if you’ve read their work and taken something from it, it hits. Here’s Coleridge: ‘The great works of past ages seem to a young man things of another race in respect to which his faculties must remain passive and submiss, even as to stars and mountains. But the writings of a contemporary, perhaps not many years older than himself, surrounded by the same circumstances and disciplined by the same manners, possess a reality for him and inspire an actual friendship as of a man for man . . . The poems themselves assume the properties of flesh and blood.’ A contemporary writer is someone who is alive while you are alive; listening to the same news, being moved to anger or splendour by the same currents, and writing, present continuous, practically in the same room; and then they’re not, and it’s different.