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Remembering Clive James: 'Have You Got a Biro I Can Borrow?'

Posted on 28th November 2019 by Mark Skinner

Author, critic, commentator, poet, lyricist, television personality, raconteur: the ridiculously multi-talented Clive James was all these things and more. His death on Sunday 24 November 2019 left behind a world all the poorer for the loss of his erudition, wisdom, razor-sharp wit and lyrical dexterity. An Australian at the heart of British cultural life for nearly fifty years, we mark his sad passing with one of his finest poems - originally shared in 2016 - 'Have You Got a Biro I Can Borrow?,' which is included in James's Collected Poems 1958-2015.

Have You Got a Biro I Can Borrow?

 

Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write your name

On the palm of my hand, on the walls of the hall

The roof of the house, right across the land

So when the sun comes up tomorrow

It’ll look to this side of the hard-bitten planet

Like a big yellow button with your name written on it

 

Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write some lines

In praise of your knee, and the back of your neck

And the double-decker bus that brings you to me

So when the sun comes up tomorrow

It’ll shine on a world made richer by a sonnet

And a half-dozen epics as long as the Aeneid

 

Oh give me a pen and some paper

Give me a chisel or a camera

A piano and a box of rubber bands

I need room for choreography

And a darkroom for photography

Tie the brush into my hands

 

Have you got a biro I can borrow?

I’d like to write your name

From the belt of Orion to the share of the Plough

The snout of the Bear to the belly of the Lion

So when the sun goes down tomorrow

There’ll never be a minute

Not a moment of the night that hasn’t got you in it 

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