(The poet Martin Stannard is working in China and unable to post to this blog, but asked me to post this for him. Do follow the link to his interview with Paul if you have time. It's well worth reading. David Belbin):
2011 is turning out to be a lousy year, and things just got lousier.
I knew Paul for almost 30 years. We met back in the very early 80s, through the magazine (joe soap's canoe) I was editing at the time. I think the canoe was the first place to publish him in the U.K. We then met in person on my first trip to the U.S. in 1983, and a friendship soon developed that I valued more highly than I can say. Paul visited England on a number of occasions, sometimes for readings I organized, and for one especially memorable tour when he curated an exhibition of Kenneth Koch's collaborations with artists at an art gallery in Ipswich. I was the town's local government's arts officer at the time, and my friend Rebecca (who is now married to printmaker Dale Devereux Barker, with whom Paul collaborated on some marvelous art books) managed two of their art galleries. Between us we cooked up the most wonderful idea: Paul would curate the exhibition, helping Koch gather the works, and we'd get them both, Paul and Kenneth, over to England for the show. And I'd organize a reading tour for them both, so when they were finished in Ipswich they didn’t just have to fly home. I can't begin to describe what a stellar experience the whole thing was. Wonder and laughter and erudition in almost equal measure, I think. Exactly like their poems.
But the truth is that I have too many great memories to mention. Paul and I read together on several occasions, both in the U.S. and in England, but it's not just poetry memories that come flooding back. My son Andy today reminded me of a photo that exists somewhere in an album of Paul seated on our couch with one of our kittens perched on his shoulder. That would have been the very early 90s, I guess. And on one occasion in Aldeburgh I remember Paul running into the North Sea in his underwear. Why? Well, it's the sea, and it was there. The fact that it was a cold bleak day, and the North Sea is never warmer than freezing, was not going to stop him.
When he told me about his illness a few weeks ago I was stunned, and struggled unsuccessfully to hold back the tears. I'm struggling to hold them back now as I write this, but I know he wouldn’t want any of that sadness. In his last email to me he insisted upon talking about something else, even though he evidently didn’t really have the energy to talk at all.
Because I've been working in China since 2005, the last time I saw Paul was 2004. I was in New York for a few days, and spent a couple of them at his home where I interviewed him for the English poetry magazine "The North". That interview subsequently ended up online at my website, and you can read it here. His energy and enthusiasm for the poem is in every word he says. He was a great poet and, more importantly, a great friend. I'm not going to apologize for crying. What the hell.