In Memoriam: For Dao Poet Richard Longstaff / 15 September 2014
On Saturday 6 September Richard Longstaff’s wife Rachel rang to say that he had passed away, peacefully with his family beside him.
Richard first told me the devastating news of the cancer at the beginning of last June. And it was soon evident that it was terminal. The last time we spoke was just over four weeks ago. He hoped to write some more for Dao, but the pain and exhaustion from the illness had made it impossible.
My sincerest condolences go out to Rachel and to their daughters. Richard was a trooper; dedicated to his family and his passing is a sad loss for many, including us here at Dao, enriched and entertained by his poetry and the stories attached to his words.
In November 2013 I wrote to Richard having discovered he¹d sent me a wodge of poems, buried like a jewel in amongst a mess of emails. There was a refreshing depth and an honesty in his words, never shy of searching for the truth of human relationships.
The selection Richard sent described the end of a working day in a northern town, time spent in hospital, a friend’s struggles with alcoholism, a family funeral and his own love for nature (his doctor had encouraged him to go for country walks and he found a love for wildlife photography) and for poetry (George McKay Brown was one of Richard’s favourites. He loved the descriptive power and simplicity of Brown’s language and so Dao commissioned an article as part of our Dao Poets on Poetry series).
Poetry was dear to Richard’s heart, but he¹d never shared his own efforts with anyone except his wife and daughters. “I found your site and chanced my arm” he wrote. “I take inspiration from nature, a world that offers me a escape from the pressures of this ‘Normal’ world in which we live. I find comfort in the beauty of simple things all around. I also use my disability to find things that inspire me. I find the autistic mind sees things that others miss.”
We never met, but Richard and I built a friendship through email and lengthy conversations on the phone. I encouraged him to contribute a poetry blog to Dao: 'Beyond Watford' he wanted to call it. He took up the mantle and the second poetry blog A Natural End to Things told the story of the ‘loss’ of his son. We shared our grief: both of our families victims to the scourge of home-farmed ‘skunk’ that has swept across the country over the last fifteen years, filling mental hospitals everywhere with our young men.
Following those exchanges, aided on the computer by his daughter Laura, Richard sent in a steady stream of work, always inspiring, he described his favoured method for writing poetry: deciding on a theme and then building a word list. His work delved back into his youth in the seventies, and the realities of life for those of us who came along in the shadow of the second world war.
There is a power in the straightforward, honed detail in Richard¹s words. The confidence in the blogs he sent in grew at a pace with a depth of humanity and humour in his storytelling. One of my favourites was the story of Old Joe the scrap merchant, a bitter man, feared by all in the village Richard grew up in.
Over the course of a summer, young Richard and his brother sold Joe back his own lead, until he cottoned on and that was that. ‘Mad Dogs’ tells Joe’s story: a man held in contempt and isolated by narrow-minded attitudes that judged him for his lack of war service.
And that was Richard’s gift, to be able to think through a story and find a deeper truth than what that which lies on the surface.
Thanks for those conversations mate.
May you rest in peace.
For Richard Longstaff
I never quite believed you¹d be leaving us
though you said the cancer was terminal.
You said you hoped to be able
to put a few thoughts down on the computer
if you found enough strength.
We never met, but talked on the phone
about our families, our fathers and sons
our daughters and wives, cherished;
the line of hopes and joys that move us forwards;
the losses that held us to the earth.
And now you¹ve gone, it¹s like being transported
at speed to a place where life looks map-like
distant, far from the self on a thin chord of poetic licence
defined by the depth of words shared
a love for nature, poetry and truth.