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Jamaican poet Louis Simpson is dead

Published:Monday | December 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Ralph Thompson, Contributor

Louis Simpson, a great Jamaican poet, has died at age 89.

Son of Aston Simpson, a prominent Kingston lawyer who often rivalled Norman Manley in the courts, and a Russian Jewish mother, Simpson attended Munro College and upon graduation, joined his mother, who had divorced Aston, in New York.

World War II was raging and Simpson joined the American 101st Airborne division, seeing action in some of the fiercest battles of the war.

When peace returned, Simpson read for his PhD at Columbia University, and lived two years in Paris where he published his first collection.

Prior to retirement, he had been professor of English at the Sunny Brook campus of New York University. He has some 12 poetry collections to his credit, in addition to critical studies, and won the Pulitzer prize for his fourth collection, Caviar at the Funeral.

Invited by the University of the West Indies and sponsored by his cousin, Douglas Fletcher, Simpson participated in the Distinguished Lecture series. He also gave a memorable reading at Calabash.


During one of his visits to Jamaica, he afforded Edward Baugh and me the opportunity of interview him. This interview was subsequently published in the West Indies Review of Literature.

He has written many memorable poems about his life in Jamaica and his tribute to his father, the first lines of which are "My Father in the night commanding No/Has work to do," is a classic.

Disenchanted by suburban life in America, he regretted in many of his poems that the Republic had lost the optimism and humanism of Walt Whitman.

Primarily a narrative poet, he is included in nearly every anthology of modern poetry, the entries usually commenting on his Jamaican heritage. He has been generous in several reviews of my poetry and I shall miss him as a warm friend and a great poet.