Anthony Rudolf

James Hogan/Augustus Young

James and I first met in 1972/1973, thanks to an introduction by John Montague, following my attendance at the 1972 Struga Poetry Festival in Macedonia, where John was the Irish delegate. At the time James and Margaret were living in Canfield Gardens, Swiss Cottage and I was not far away in Belsize Park. We immediately hit it off and a firm friendship ensued, which is still going strong fifty years later. In those days our activities included squash. But our main shared interest was poetry.

Over the years, my Menard Press published more books by Augustus Young than any other author, including the Credit series, three editions of his translations of Dánta Grádha (love poems from the Irish), Lampion and His Bandits and, by adoption, a volume of prose memoirs, Light Years. Each of us is one of three or four readers to whom the other entrusts extracts from or entire works-in-progress, with a licence to comment robustly.

After quitting his day job as a senior epidemiologist, Augustus Young increased his already prodigious work rate, producing a multi-vocal body of poetry, auto-fiction and criticism in different modes, always complex and compelling, always treating the reader as a grownup. Prodigally inventive, he has a laser intellect and an acute ear to match, and I am fortunate to have him as a friend and critical reader. Here on my shelf are all his books from other publishers,  including the genre-busting The Nicotine Cat — the follow-up memoir to Light Years and Story Time—which is a witty and learned meditation on people and ideas, on language and languages.

When he gets an obsession, boy does he obsess. Following Kierkegaard and others, his latest obsession is Rilke, whose work and life are the object or subject of a lengthy and remarkable investigation which the master will salute from his grave. James’s production of poetry is ongoing. He will write ten poems – often sequences of very varied style and tone – in the hope or knowledge that three or four will survive.

James is touchier than I am, and more straightforward. He puts up with less nonsense from other people than I do, meaning he has more time for the essentials, albeit at the cost of occasional unfairness. When misunderstandings happened, his late wife Margaret, whom I cherished as a dear friend and who was a reader extraordinaire, would step in, and all would be well again. His book, m.émoire, is a beautiful and profound memorial to a loved one, and a lesson to others who would write such a book.

Many people used to make suggestions to Paula Rego. Once in a while one of the suggestions would take root, thus her painting ‘The Nicotine Cat’ – based on an idea by James. It is a work  freighted with meanings, not all of them apparent to James.

James and Margaret always made their home spaces beautiful – in Swiss Cottage, Belsize Park, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Hendon, Port-Vendres – light years (to coin a phrase) from the chaos in my one and only flat, which I shall never leave.

On my memorable first visit to Port-Vendres, the three of us made a pilgrimage across the French-Spanish border to the beautiful site at Port-Bou with the several memorials to Walter Benjamin, a writer of great significance to James and myself.

These days we rarely meet. But hardly a day goes by without an email, a week without a phone call. Between the lines of the emails, I detect a life well lived even without Margaret, a life where a handful of local friends benefit from his generosity. His passion for rugby is well catered for in that part of France.

It will be impossible for both of us to be present at the other’s funeral. That’s life

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The Duras Press

The Duras Press