Tony Conran died recently and was buried yesterday. The meaning of his life and the poetry and other writings he gave us ripple on, touching so many lives.
What I write here is personal and inexpert. For a beautifully-written, expert view, go to:
Tony was a poet, and a - in my view, the - translator of Welsh poetry into English, and therefore the translator of a culture and a history. He was a critic and a teacher. He was a party-giver, and a generous host; he brought together a fascinating variety of people, who may not otherwise have met.
He had a powerful and fierce intellect, wide-ranging too. The poem below has in it a more-or-less technical term. Just like Tony to find, know and use the accurate geological term. He brought together the imaginative power that people sometimes call "romantic" with the clarity and accuracy of a natural scientist. He was an expert on those mysterious and ancient plants, the ferns. He had a fernery, which he was always very pleased to show you. He knew a hell of a lot about music, and provided a hub for the burgeoning traditional music scene in his part of the world.
In person, he could be forthright, never sentimental, sometimes deliberately contrary in order to stimulate discussion.
He published a lot of his own poetry, often in small booklet form, though volumes of his poetry were also gathered. He published his book of translations, The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse, in the mid-sixties; it was revelation to me then and still is. It's titled "Welsh Verse" now; it is, disgracefully, not that easy to find outside Wales, although there is plenty of his stuff on Amazon.
I hadn't seen a lot of him in recent years; I saw a lot of him and his circle when I was a student; he gave me more than he could ever know.
He was not, despite his huge talents and dedication to poetry, an arrogant, over-inflated sort of man. He was courteous and sensitive.
I'm proud of this anecdote: at the height of the late sixties perturbations cultural and political, one witless McLuhanite of our mutual acquaintance told Tony that the days of poetry, and indeed of books, were over, writing poetry was looking at the future through a rear-view mirror, the new thing was... whatever the hell he thought it was I can't remember.
Tony asked me - callow youth as I was - if I thought this was so. Tony was disturbed.
What Tony had, which people like the McLuhanite couldn't grasp, was a traditionally-based but entirely up-to-date view of his work as a social poet. He would write beautiful little poems for an engagement, a wedding, a death; the recipients were awed, grateful, delighted. He wrote poetry to and for people, the community of people he built around him. (He also wrote much more widely-aimed poems, of course.)
Anyway, I asked Tony on no account to be thrown off-balance by such views, and said that in my humble opinion the bloke was a tosser. He didn't understand what a community poet was for, and that Tony's poems would be read and loved when the McLuhanite..etc etc. Tony smiled and cheered up.
In some ways, the least important thing about Tony was that he had cerebral palsy, except to say that the doctors told his parents he wouldn't make forty. Tony knew what he was here for, and he was a determined man. He wrote, taught, married, raised a family, and fulfilled his destiny as a poet. He died at the age of 81, honoured, loved and admired.