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This report is taken from PN Review 189, Volume 36 Number 1, September - October 2009.

Sightless Seer: Memories of John Heath-Stubbs Oliver Dixon

An entry from my journal, dated 19 March 2001:

First meeting with John Heath-Stubbs. I entered the tiny flat - dark, shabby, with singed wallpaper - feeling diffident and over-awed. Extraordinary head looming out of the shadows, silver hair on end, cavernous cheeks. He greets us, a little distantly. Then the bulky frame hunches over, head in enormous hands as Guthrie goes through appointments, times, dates with him like a solicitous mother with a teenage son. He answers in bewildered tones - has forgotten to do this, can’t remember what time he’s supposed to do that, has lost such and such an address.

I thought he was in bad spirits and felt dreadfully de trop, but it was obviously just the practicalities dismaying him - as the others got up to go he said (obviously having heard I was interested in poetry) ‘Wait, I wanted to speak with Oliver’ and asked me to sit quite close beside him as he is not only blind but deaf now in one ear.

His manner changed instantly to a sort of quizzical charm, a scholarly meandering warmth, as soon as we touched on his reality: poetry, words, music. The subjects he ranged over seem like Keats’ description of Coleridge’s rambling conversation on Hampstead Heath: his own composition, done on tape recorder then transcribed and amended; emendations of manuscripts of English poets, best examples being Milton and Keats - problem more complex in Shakespeare, what with ...


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