Another great artist has passed.
Liam was only fifty-seven, an age that seems young to me now.
I first knew him in Washington DC in the 1970s, when he was going by his given name of Ron. He was one of the younger poets who were part of the alternative poetry scene in DC back then.
He had a vitality for life that was hard to match. And he wasn’t afraid to embrace experience and to challenge accepted ideas and standards, nor to speak the truth as he saw it.
Back when I first knew him, I remember reading an article about the statistics of life expectancy and occupations. It turned out, orchestra conductors had the longest average life span of any job.
They explained that it was probably due to several factors, including the natural aerobic exercise they got from conducting a concert, or even rehearsals, the mental exercise they got from having to re-interpret scores for different orchestras, or new scores for the same orchestra.
And the natural satisfaction they got from having achieved their goal of being a professional conductor and from completing concerts and receiving not only the applause of a live audience, but good reviews, prestige in their field, recognition, etc.
And, the job was safe, almost accident free.
On the other hand, the occupations with the shortest life spans, I remember noting at the time, were taxi drivers and poets.
Back then, in the ‘70s, taxi drivers were being killed, in robberies, more often than miners in cave ins or cops in shootouts or firemen in fighting fires and rescues. So the idea of driving a cab being a hazardous profession in the 1970s and ‘80s made sense.
Unfortunately, so did the idea of the hazards of being a poet. First of all, in my experience, poets are over sensitive, it’s what makes them “the antennae of the race” as Pound put it, more or less.
And because of that over sensitivity to the inequities and mysteries, let alone miseries and general unfairness of the world and life, the “lack of tenderness in the world” as Lawrence Durrell put it in JUSTINE, they suffer—at least emotionally and mentally, if not physically—more than a lot of folks in other occupations do (e.g. many doctors and nurses have a tendency to harden their hearts, to some extent, in the face of all the pain and death they encounter).
So when this article pointed out that the reason the average life span for poets was so low was because of all the suicides, I assumed it was because of the over sensitivity.
But in fact, a lot of the poets I know who have died too young (at my age, death at any age seems too young, but I’m talking about dying before middle age) died of “natural” causes—Ed Cox, James Haining, Tim Dlugos, et. al.
Although a probably equal amount took their own lives either quickly—like Ralph Dickey—or slowly—like so many who died as a result of their drinking and drugging, which is often just a slow form of suicide.
Not that this is any comfort to those left behind. But it is to me, in what some might see as a perverse way. Because I believe, though it seems irrational, that these poets who passed too early knew somehow their destiny, and it's what made them such fine poets, their sensitivity either a result of knowing somewhere in their DNA that their lives would end too soon in the world’s terms, or vice versa.
Either way, I am grateful for the work they leave behind as some form of consolation at least for those who like me experience art that way
In fact, usually in their work you can find a prediction of their own demise, some last will or words, or wish for ways for those left behind to console themselves, or at least to understand.
Here’s only one of many that Liam wrote (thanks to Terence Winch for pointing this one out to me):
The Remarkable Objectivity
of Your Old Friends
by Liam Rector
We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.
We called other friends - the ones
Your mother hadn't called - and told them
What you had decided, and some said
What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we'd just have to live
With that, that your life had been one
Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,
Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we'd have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.