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Iain the Person

As seen by those who knew him best - his family

The week after Iain died we joined with many of his friends to celebrate his life at an open air ceremony in the bushland setting of a Brisbane park.  Friends and colleagues from the College of Art and family members had combined to transform a cardboard coffin (Iain's wish) into a glowing work of art. The coffin (symbolically empty) formed the centre piece of a simple ceremony conducted by a Buddhist nun and with a musical accompaniment provided by niece Catherine Turnbull from Melbourne, a professional violist and part-time member of the MSO & TSO.


Gavin welcomed the many friends who had come to pay tribute to Iain's memory with the following words: –


"There is an old Japanese proverb ... 'Love has no enemy'. As I look around today I would paraphrase it more positively ... 'Love has many friends'.

"In the days since lain died, it has been a source of great wonder and comfort to Elizabeth and me to discover the depth of love and affection in which lain was held by all who knew him. We thank you for sharing our grief at his death, and rejoice that so many of you have joined us today to help celebrate his life.

"In a letter lain received a week before he died a very dear friend in Sydney - Nicholas Pounder - said he was sending Iain a book of poems and mentioned one in particular he thought lain would enjoy. From a very moving conversation since with Nicholas, I know he also chose it because he felt it said so much about lain's life and work.

"Sadly, lain never did get to read it, but today I would like to share it with you ... and with Iain.

"In this prose poem, Reflections, celebrated American poet Stanley Kunitz talks of the tasks facing the poet (or the artist) in making 'sense' of the world and expressing it through their art.




Years ago I came to the realization that the most poignant of all lyric tensions stems from the awareness that we are living and dying at once. To embrace such knowledge and yet to remain compassionate and whole – that is the consummation of the endeavor of art.

At the core of one's existence is a pool of energy that has nothing to do with personal identity, but that falls away from self, blends into the natural universe. Man has only a bit part to play in the whole marvelous show of creation.

Poems would be easy if our heads weren’t so full of the day’s clatter. The task is to get through to the other side, where we can hear the deep rhythms that connect us with the stars and the tides.

I keep trying to improve my controls over language, so that I won't have to tell lies. And I keep reading the masters, because they infect me with human possibility.

Our poems can never satisfy us, since they are at best a diminished echo of a song that maybe once or twice in a lifetime we've heard and keep trying to recall.

I like to think that it is the poet's love of particulars, the things of this world, that leads him to universals.

A badly made thing falls apart. It takes only a few years for most of the energy to leak out of a defective work of art. To put it simply, conservation of energy is the function of form.

We have all been expelled from the Garden, but the ones who suffer most in exile are those who are still permitted to dream of perfection.

Sometimes I feel ashamed that I’ve written so few poems on political themes, on the causes that agitate me. But then I remind myself that to choose to live as a poet in the modern superstate is in itself a political action.

There's always a song lying under the surface of my poems. The struggle is between incantation and sense. Incantation wants to take over. It really doesn't need a language: all it needs is sounds. The sense has to struggle to assert itself, to mount the rhythm and become inseparable from it.

In his eighty-seventh year, Miro told an interviewer that he felt closest to “the young––all the young generations.” From childhood to age, he ruminated, “I have always lived a very intense life, almost like a monk, an austere life. It comes out in little leaves, floating about, dispersing themselves. But the trunk of the tree and the branches remain solid.”

Yes, he admitted, his style had changed––changed several times, in fact, during his long life. But these changes did not imply a rejection of what he had done before.

Looking back, he could see a continuity in the essence of his work, which is nourished at every stage “by all of my past, the great human past. And what looks like a zig-zag is really a straight line.”

At my age, after you're done––or ruefully think you're done––with the nagging anxieties and complications of your youth, what is there left for you to confront but the great simplicities? I never tire of bird-song and sky and weather. I want to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare. I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through and see the world.

Stanley Kunitz - The Collected Poems – Norton (2000)

"There are very many here today who knew Iain well and who will realise how closely those beautiful thoughts mirror his life and his art.


"In conclusion two other Japanese proverbs come to mind… 'A face without a smile is like a lantern without a light' and 'The lantern bearer should go ahead'.


"Throughout his life Iain's 'lantern' was lit with a special smile and now he has gone ahead, leaving his light to guide and inspire those of us who remain behind.



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Family Group - November 2006
(L to R): Jeremy, Gavin, Catherine,
son-in-law Don (obs)., Caitlin (g.-daughter), Elizabeth, Matthew D (g.son), Matthew & Iain
Father & sons - November 2006
Iain, Matthew, Gavin & Jeremy




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