Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Christopher Logue RIP

Come to the edge

Come to the Edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
And they came,
and we pushed,
And they flew.


My hero: Christopher Logue
'He seemed unquenchable. You felt even death wouldn't get a word in edgeways'

Craig Raine
Tuesday 6 December 2011

It's difficult to believe that Christopher Logue has died, because he seemed unquenchable. You felt even death wouldn't get a word in edgeways. His voice had a posh rasping edge, like an improvised saw. He was one of the liveliest people I've ever known. Ebullient, impatient, peremptory, candid, rude on occasion, opinionated, funny, surprising, widely loved. He was also a very great poet. His version of Homer's Iliad is one of the glories of literature, a pacifist's paean to a brutal warrior culture. The very taste of war is in his words, the flavour of carnage in all its fullness.

And the flavour of Christopher? Singular. Various. He had an eye. (Literally, because he had lost the sight of the other in an army prison.) The cover image of War Music was chosen by him: a glistening Nuba warrior photographed by Leni Riefenstahl. The US edition had a still from Metropolis – a futuristic robot as archetypal armoured warrior. The US cover for Husbands was an Arab fighter walking along a brick wall with a missile launcher over his shoulder. Christopher could have worked for Magnum.

He was an autodidact, a village explainer. As Gertrude Stein wrote of Ezra Pound, "fine if you were a village; if not, not". I was happy to be a village. He was habitually under-awed. (I'm writing this from Venice, dismissed by Christopher as "provincial".)

I was privileged to be his editor. At first, we were both a bit nervous. Rosemary Hill, his wife, after prolonged foreplay: "That's enough lunch, you two. Get on with it, Ed." It was all-day, exhilarating, exhausting, hand-to-hand stuff. Christopher generally had a nap halfway through, while I prostrated myself on a sofa.

He knew as much about email as Homer. This is a postcard to my son Isaac. Twenty years on, Isaac knows it by heart: "That's the third time you've failed to pass on my phone message. Next time, don't say 'I'll tell him', say 'shut up, you boring old man, I'm not interested'." Christopher could make even a postcard "memorable speech".

See also:

War Music [Down on your knees, Achilles]
An account of books 16-19 of the Iliad by Homer.

Down on your knees, Achilles. Farther down.
Now forward on your hands and put your face into the dirt,
And scrub it to and fro.
Grief has you by the hair with one
And with the forceps of its other hand
Uses your mouth to trowel the dogshit up;
Watches you lift your arms to Heaven; and then
Pounces and screws your nose into the filth.
Gods have plucked drawstrings from your head,
And from the templates of your upper lip
Modelled their bows.
Not now. Not since
Your grieving reaches out and pistol-whips
That envied face, until
Frightened to bear your black, backbreaking agony alone,
You sank, throat back, thrown back, your voice
Thrown out across the sea to reach your Source.


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