It was with sadness that Rochford Street Review learnt of the recent death of Stephen Lawrence. I had only gotten to know Stephen over the last few months. He was the first person to ‘volunteer’ to write reviews for Rochford Street Review and I gave him the difficult task of reviewing two online publications – Mascara Issue 10 and the first installment of Pam Brown’s ’51 Contemporary poets from Australia’ on Jacket 2. He accepted this challenge and produced an insightful review which is still attracting traffic to Rochford Street Review – https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/01/19/all-dressed-up-stephen-lawrence-reviews-mascara-issue-10-and-jacket-2-51-contemporary-poets-from-australia/.
Over the past few months Stephen and I had exchanged a number of emails and he was looking forward to doing some more reviews for us. We discussed poetry and poets and he was always happy to offer comments and advice on the reviews and articles on Rochford Street Review. He had requested to review Chris Mansell’s collection Spine Lingo together with David McCooey’s Outside and was working on this review at the time of his death.
As a small tribute I am sharing a copy of Stephen’s last email to Rochford Street Review:
I hope it’s going well with you. I enjoyed your recent piece – ah, the gestetner revolution!
I’m getting a piece together concerning the McCooey and Mansell collection you kindly sent over. Sorry, I didn’t ask whether I might combine them, or review the books separately – and word count, roughly (a number to aim for)?
In the meantime, you may be interested in my review last month for New York’s Poetry Project Newsletter, of Evie Shockley’s 2011 poetry collection, The New Black. (Evie is a black American academic poet, and may be of interest to local readers.) If it suits RSR, you are welcome to use this piece (my copyright) for the site.
.Please sing out if it might be useful to you, and I can send it over.
.All the best,
Our condolences go out to Stephen’s family and many friends.
– Mark Roberts
Rochford Street Review
The following tributes to Stephen were posted onto Facebook. I trust that there are no objections to them being reprinted here:
I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Stephen Lawrence, poet, friend. It is hard to believe we will never speak again, about poetry, about ideas, about music, and more. Apart from all that, I supervised Stephen’s PhD and had got to know a lot more about his ideas about poetry, as well as the work itself. Am finding it hard to say much more at the moment. Farewell Stephen. Thinking of Celine, Georgia and Joseph.
“I am saddened to hear of Stephen Lawrence’s passing. It is difficult to believe, when I only saw him last month and sat chatting to him at Writers’ Week. Stephen and I were co-editors of the Friendly Street anthology ‘Beating Time in a Gothic Space’, no. 23, the last Friendly Street anthology of the 20th century. So we spent a lot of time working together during 1999 and I have fond memories of how well we worked together on the collection, meeting in each others’ homes, taking photographs for the back cover in the Botanical Gardens, and surprisingly agreeing on most of the editorial choices. I was unable to attend the launch of the anthology due to a family illness and came under a fair bit of criticism for not being there; I want to thank Stephen for defending me against those criticisms and for hosting the launch without me.
Stephen was also an inaugural member of the poetry group I started in 1995 – A Passion of Poets (a group which still meets today, although the membership has shifted over time).
I hope no-one will mind me posting Stephen’s poem ‘Circuitboard’. It is the poem I selected for the 1999 anthology and I think it captures the nature of Stephen’s work very well, and shows something of Stephen himself. His collection ‘Beasts Labial’ is also a must read. My sincere condolences to Celine, Georgia and Joseph.
Passes through structured ether, receiving
In return for the intensity of the outlay.
The mind’s electricity,
Traces varying pathways across the board.
Of each reader,
Determines the quality of induction.
Catch and swirl
Consciousness in their eddies and flux.
What it touches,
Illuminating one route each time through
Of the grid,
And passes out,
Changed from when it entered.
From Friendly Street Reader No. 23
It may be interesting, especially to readers of Stephen’s poetry, for me to recall how I became aware that he was writing poems, many years ago. As a much younger man, he wrote an MA on Shakespeare which I supervised, at Flinders (this was long before my retirement in 2001). He’d hand up drafts for me to look at and scribble comments on. Obviously this involved also my turning over each sheet. Every sheet had a poem, or snatches of poems, on the back. They struck me as remarkably good and professional. Each poem of course had a slash through it, as I was meant to read the thesis. Competent though Stephen’s thesis work was, the poems were more exciting to me, even though I did not realise they were his. Eventually I asked him whose they were, and he told me the truth … I was very pleased and impressed, and greatly encouraged him to go on writing poems! In later years we from time to time would mention this incident to each other, always with some mirth. Stephen never forgot that I liked his poems particularly, though he modestly pointed out, years later, that he felt he had come to write good prose too. As indeed he had. In recent years we had a considerable amount of contact after we caught up with each other in relation to his wish to do a PhD thesis in creative writing. As a friend, he would come to our house every three months or so, always with a bottle of excellent red wine, and we – Truus and I – would provide the nibbles. The conversation always flowed easily and enjoyably – they were really happy meetings, which I shall continue to treasure, though I shall miss him terribly and am shocked by his death, as is Truus – and so many other people who valued and loved him..
Lovely tribute, Joost. I always wanted to know Stephen better, and am so sad my window of opportunity is closed.