John West Liked People

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.
John West



8 thoughts on “John West Liked People

  1. Pingback: Some Sad News « ashley capes

  2. Pingback: Vale John West « Tassie Blog

  3. Hi Warrick

    I was just cleaning my office and found a poem that John wrote after attending a training session that I delivered in 2002 at Southern Healthcare where he worked. It moved me yet again and I googled him to try and get in touch to thank him and reconnect. Sadly I found your article and heard he had died.

    I was wondering – did he leave a family, children? I would love to ensure they have a copy of this one.

    I will write it out here for you:

    The ‘Leadership for Nurses’ Seminar

    The usual cliches
    the loud ones, the mice like me
    who won’t talk until embarrassed into it.

    Made to tell our stories
    we all end up giggling
    remembering what it is like to be loved.

    The leader’s life involves degrees, travel
    her time as state manager but we’re most transfixed
    by the death of her husband.

    One girl reminds me of a nurse I knew
    whose leg was destroyed
    in a motor bike crash.

    There is a black Mercedes
    parked in the ‘No Parking’ zone near Cas;
    people stand near it, crying.

    Attempting to understand why I feel so good
    on the way home I remember
    in one exercise my partner praised me.

  4. Thanks for sharing that poem Caroline, and for reminding me again about John and his work. I’m not in contact with John’s family, but will email it through to a friend who might have closer contact. He did have a wife and at least one child.

    • he absolutely loved his beautiful granddaughter Darcy, Matts daughter. He once traced the image of her name she had written herself at the tender age of 4 and took it to his tattoo artist and had it tattooed on his left hand.


    • Hi Sue; I’m glad you approve. I think that a lot of people who knew John and his writing have strong memories of him and his work. He was such an strong influence on lots of writers, and always supportive of everyone. He’s much missed.

  6. Hiya Warwick, Uncle John was my favourite relative and apparently me his. He was an absolute legend!!!! I met you years ago at one of his first book launches in Hawthorn. He spoke well of you and others in the poetry world especially Garth who guided him in how to read his poetry with better effect. His poem “I like people” was also judged first prize at writers at the Rails in Byron Bay when he came to visit me in 2008. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend his funeral as I was living 2 states away and only had a days notice of the hasty ceremony. I am wanting to connect with yourself and Garth to discuss just what happened to his final publication. I read his poetry in Lismore at the Live Poets at the Tatts hotel in Lismore where he has many admirers of his wonderful works. I really miss him.

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