I’ve been associated with StAnza’s ‘Past and Present’ sessions for many years, and I’ve enjoyed doing them. The mood is usually celebratory, informative and inspirational – at least I like to think that it should be. But the immediacy of one’s emotional reaction to hearing of the death of writers is a different thing, especially if one has a connection to them.
So it is this week, on hearing of the losses of Alan Sillitoe and Peter Porter. I read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning soon after it came out, and then I saw the film. Book and film had different impacts on me; the book a more lasting one. There was no mistaking the social class from which the novel arose, and I thought the film, despite some iffy casting, reflected the story well. Sillitoe’s next project, the small collection of short stories titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, was, I thought, masterful and original. His ‘hero’ was unmistakeably a genuine and real lad of his time and place, not a Lawrencian stereotype.
I last heard Peter Porter at StAnza 2009, where his reading on the Sunday evening was one of my highlights from that year’s festival. Often a formalist, there was nothing stuffy or rigid about his poetry. It sparkled, reflecting this amiable Australian-born poet’s personality. He made London his home, but there was always an expansiveness and openness about his poetry, and I associated that with his Australian upbringing.
Too early, far too early, to assess the longer-term contributions of both authors to their different literary forms. It’s a time just to express sadness at their passing.