I have just finished reading Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and The Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson. It’s an interesting book, written with obvious relish and enthusiasm. The author is an obit writer herself and writes mostly about the art/science of obituary writing, as understood and represented by a host of (apparently) well known obituary writers in the UK and the USA.
The subject of death, one would think, cannot be far when writing about obituaries. Surprisingly, The book steers completely clear of the topic. There is absolutely no philosophizing about life, death, meaning and all. I am willing to concede that an obituary is more about life than about death; but it is hard to imagine that not one of the obituary writers is interested in discussing Death, let alone confess to being captivated or motivated by the spectacle it can get to be. Or may be such morbid (!) thoughts get edited out!
So, the author focuses on the people who write obituaries – the trend setters, the game changers and their perspectives. For about half of the book it reads fine. And she gives some very good examples of witty and interesting obits. Then, more of the same. Then, she talks about her own obsession with obituaries, internet news groups dedicated to obituary writing and reading and fellow obit fans. At which point, I kind of lost the flow.
(update: I must confess that the book made me curious about obituaries and I have been looking for good ones. I guess this one of His Honour James Pickles in The Telegraph would appeal to obit fans)
Going off on a tangent, one of the people whose obit she mentions is Michael Donaghy, an award winning poet and musician. I looked him up. Here is a link to one of his poems. Here is one more profile piece and more poems you can listen to. Guy writes deep, very deep.
One more tangent: The famous poets page link where I found Donaghy’s poem has a pane on the left with more names of famous poets. One of the names I did not recognize was that of Jack Prelutsky. so, I clicked on the name and found the following poem.
Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.
Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.
Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.
Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.
Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!
Brilliant, I say! More of the same here. While we are on brilliant poetry, let me present one more.
In the instantaneous silence,
I closed my eyes for a moment
In the shade of a blue cliff
In the middle of a vast wilderness
A small tick ticking sound
And a wink winking blink
A creepy smell of burning
And a hint of malevolence
The blue cliff gave off a roar
Tick ticking is now burr burring
The wink winking waned off
The monsters have materialized
Got to go, the light has turned green.