by Diana Durham
My poems were still in the bottom drawer of my desk, and the very idea of performing them was challenging, when I first met Jay, around 30 years ago. Like many other poets before and after me, I got to experience Jay’s extraordinary kindness and encouragement, and soon had a first volume of poems from the Diamond Press with the help of Jay and publisher Geoffrey Godbert. Not long after that, I joined the other members of what was probably the second generation of the performance group Angels of Fire, with Jay, Lizzie Spring, Carolyn Askar and Taggart Deike.
Jay became a lifelong friend and colleague, editing four poetry anthologies that I contributed to, editing two of my poetry books, writing endorsements, offering his Chrysalis imprint for my collection of sonnets. He came over to America after I moved there with my family, and we had a lot of fun giving workshops and readings. My daughter was eight years old at the time, and I will never forget the ‘living sculpture’ of driftwood and flotsam she and Jay built down along the marshy edge of the tidal pond close to our home. It stood for a surprising number of years before tides and weather dismantled it.
Jay’s generosity functioned within his own passion for and dedication to the craft of poetry. The number of his poetry books alone is legendary. But, more than this, what I valued always was his unabashed staking out of what he called ‘the visionary dimension’. Jay’s perennial theme is that the worlds of vision and form are intertwined:
I cross the threshold, and wade
Where the breath hangs in the sunlight and the green
And there’s no sound, only the breath whispering,
Humming inaudibly like bees, at my feet …
And the light pours down, the light is pouring down
Over my head, drawing me into silence
So there’s no difference between the light
And what it’s shining on—it’s all one place
Why is this important? Because: ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ Visionary awareness brings coherence, brings life. And for Jay this is what poetry enacts, what it is for:
Poetry, stuck like a rare transparency
Pressed between the pages of a book
When we need it written all over the air
A mile high, so blind eyes can see?
from ‘prelude-for Ted’ in Monuments
Jay persisted in this understanding, the poems flowing out through decades dominated by the intellectual arrogance of postmodern nihilism, reductionist science, and the juggernaut of global markets. His poetry forms a significant thread in the gold weave of vision sustained by all great poets – and which in turn sustains us.
Recently returned to the UK from America, I managed to see Jay twice. Once in a sunny cafe, when he looked radiant, the second time at the launch of The Dangerous Book, when he looked more gaunt. Now he is no longer here, in form anyway, although I know he is here in presence. Nevertheless, I will miss him, miss co-creating, miss hearing his beautiful voice.