Brian Johnstone Obituary

While I was in hospital, I was shocked to hear that the lovely and inspirational Scottish poet and author Brian Johnstone had died. I knew he had been ill, but not that it was so serious. I’d found Brian to be a very encouraging and supportive friend, someone who would always come over, often with his wife Jean, if he saw me standing alone in a crowd. I first met him through Split Screen, an anthology about TV programmes, edited by Andy Jackson and published by Red Squirrel Press. We read together at several launches, and each time I met him, I warmed to him even more.

In 2014, I was invited to take an exhibition to StAnza. I’d been longing to go for some time, but I hadn’t realised it was Brian’s brainchild. It has all the hallmarks of his personality: friendliness, a genuine love of poetry, inclusivity, kindness and generosity. By then Eleanor Livingstone was director, but Brian was always to be seen as a convivial host at the most wonderful poetry party. I also knew him from Sally Evans’ fabulous Poetry Scotland weekends. He didn’t come every time, but when he did, it was always with some exciting new project to share with us.

He certainly made the most of his retirement from teaching, publishing several books of poetry, a memoir, a pamphlet of poems about music that looks like an album, and gave many readings. I have a copy of his latest book for review and our last communication was his thanking me for offering to review it.

A few years ago I ran a feature on this blog (hygge) to cheer people up at a very dark time. Brian was most generous and sent me several poems for it. I want to share one with you now in his memory.

He will be greatly missed; there was a great outcry of grief from so many people, and there have been much posher obituaries than this. You will find them if you search on line. But this is just my personal goodbye to a man with a big heart, a ginormous white moustache and a fecund mind. Let us continue to read and enjoy his poetry and other writings, and be thankful for his life.

This branch to which I take
the running chain 

is dead in that one sense
we cling to stubbornly, 

believing stasis, dehydration
mark the loss of life; 

dead the way no beech or ash
can ever be 

set moving by the winds
that brought this limb to earth, 

that aired it for a year
and made it ready for the saw 

to section it,
the axe to split it into twins 

whose life is kindled once again
in winter grates 

that spark, spring into being,
wrest it back in flame, 

and grow it, given
earth and ashes, given time..

Brian Johnstone(First published on ‘Clear Poetry’ website)


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