by Verona Bass
I knew him as Jay, although he tried to revert to being known as John near the end of his life. I have a book of poems by him acquired in 2008, with an inscription addressed to me: ‘for Verona. In your heart’s life and dreaming, warmest and best, Jay. Waterstones. (9.10.2008)’
The title of the collection is Out Of Time, which seems poignant now that I know that he ran out of time on 30 December 2018, just over ten years later.
On the dedication page are several quotes, all of which now seem prescient:
Time becomes more and more dreamlike. It’s often only possible to know something happened or somewhere was visited by seeing the marks I made … (Kurt Jackson, Sketchbooks)
This is journey without distance, to the place you never left. (Tom and Linda Carpenter, Healing the Dream)
How we imagine our lives is how we will go on living our lives. (James Hillman, Healing Fictions)
Jay (or John) influenced people both by who he was and how he wrote. I didn’t know him well, and didn’t often see him, but it doesn’t take that much time for someone to have an impact. He seemed kind, had an instinctive understanding of the human condition. He was a performer of great power and presence with a quiet authority. They say he was a healer. He practised psychotherapy. He conducted teaching sessions to encourage creative writing, and it is here I encountered him in a day of in-depth writing at Hawkwood College in Stroud. I booked to attend a longer course with him, somewhere remote, which he had to cancel because of his father’s illness.
In Out of Time, there are poems about his father: ‘Driving Home on Christmas Day’ and ‘Golden Leaves’. In the latter one he describes sweeping up golden leaves on the garden path in the last light of day, with his father indoors, ‘wondering if you can see me’ … It was a task, a duty, but an act of devotion for his dad, and it begins, poignantly:
I was in the darkness, Dad
and you were already in the light.
One of my most telling encounters with him was when we both tried to offer support to a fellow poet and friend, Mary Palmer, before she needed to go into a hospice. It was a short but sympathetic overlap.
These moments are the stuff of what makes us human, what informs the transactions we regularly make as we navigate the currents carrying us through life. Jay’s flow has entered a different realm but we will feel the ripples in the wake of his passing.