Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lives of poets

This is Perseus Adams. He was born in South Africa in 1933; he won the South Africa State Prize for Poetry in 1963 and took the name Perseus at the advice of his hitch-hiking friend Athol Fugard, who suggested that if he wanted to publish there were too many Peters around already.

An old friend of Perseus who lost touch with him a while back, an artist now living in Jerusalem who happens to be a Facebook friend of my wife, asked if we could trace him. The Internet has a page from a local newspaper dated 2009 that mentioned his poetry and gave his address as Hadyn Park Road, which leads off the street in which we live. (It also mentioned that his grandmother was Van Gogh’s sister.) On Saturday we knocked on doors, and found some sheltered housing but there was no one at the reception desk. Going there again today, I was told that yes, Perseus had lived there, but had recently moved to a care home and they couldn’t tell me which. This afternoon I found him. He showed me his poetry books (including a 1970s competition anthology: Perseus won second prize, Derek Mahon was one of the runners up); a Selected Poems was published in South Africa in 1996. He talked non-stop: about his grandfather who died at 45 in Scotland, about meeting Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, about teaching English in India and Hong Kong, about being a stowaway on the Queen Mary, about a brief spell in Wormwood Scrubs, about a woman with coloured lights in her dress, about the newly discovered planet Kepler-186, about the end of the world … He happens to be in the same care home as Sheila, the ex-bookseller I’ve written about before who ran a tiny bookshop in Notting Hill for 44 years. If I visit again, he wouldn’t mind some croissants.


Anonymous said...

I know this sounds really random, but i was the journalist who interviewed Mr Adams in 2009, and that was my story you came across. I wanted to ask if you have spoken to him recently, and whether he's still alive.

Amos van der Merwe said...

Interesting. I'm busy with a biography of one of his former pupils and tried to trace Perseus, too. Eventually got this back from the care facility: I regret to advise that Mr Adams died whilst living at The Chiswick Nursing Centre. He passed away peacefully on 24.11.14.
Regards, Amos.