I had the sad duty today of attending the funeral of Melbourne poet John West, who died last week, too soon.
I knew John pretty well though we hadn’t been in touch much in the last few years. I launched one of his books and corresponded with him for a long time. He was a warm, generous, maddening, exuberant presence. He loved life, and he loved people. He was also a fine poet who frightened me with his breathtaking honesty and lack of pretence. I was thinking today, driving to the funeral, that for me being with John was like standing on the edge of a vast canyon in the wind and the dark with someone a bit too reckless and giddy, who might stumble and drag you down with them. There was lots of talk today of his risk-taking, his bravery, even his recklessness at times, but mostly his friendships and his loves: poetry, family, Geelong, red wine.
Garth Madsen did a great job of reading some of John’s poems, and sharing stories about him. He knew him much better than me.
One he read was a favourite of mine, ‘I Like People’. I found it online. He’ll be missed, but poems like this will last.
I Like People
I like people with scars, hit by life
4 or 5 kids, floppy livers, bruised hearts
hair burnt yellow by dye. I like people
with safety-pinned glasses, people
who wheel vinyl shopping bags, yarn
at corners. I like people who wear three day’s growth,
cotton dresses, sloppy cardigans, torn jumpers, who do not own
answering machines, mobile phones or house alarms.
I like people who have never been to a gym, who don’t jog
who don’t own a Walkman, people who ride bikes
because they have to, people who $2 shop
who buy things they need in Saint Vincent’s. I like people
who cook in, serve in, own, eat in
run-down cafes with laminex tables,
where they serve raisin toast, poached eggs,
cholesterol-coated bacon, where they let the lady
who breathes through the hole in her throat, just sit.
I like people who relax at weekends with slabfuls of beer,
I like people with big tits, high blood pressure who drink,
people who hold up varicose veins which will never be treated, people
with unfixed bunions, arthritis, their bones grinding,
worn rough from walking, knocked-about people,
people you see every day in the better suburbs.