Friday, 7 October 2011


My obit of Joe Garland was in the Guardian on 5 September, you can link to it here. It ran pretty much as I wrote it, unfortunately with a short word count, but that was to be expected as the story of Howard Blackburn isn't well known here in Britain, and as far as I know, Unknown Soldiers received no attention here, though in fairness a quick look at its US reviews helped persuade the Guardian that Joe's was a story that their readers would enjoy having told.

What was lost from the piece I wrote was some detail about Joe's wartime experiences in an 'Ironhead' platoon, as 'intelligence and recon' was known, and a little about my own interest in the Gloucester poet Charles Olson, which prompted my friendship with Joe, who had known him well.Olson mythologised the town in his poetry, creating a universe out of it, with himself at the centre, and it was amusing to see the way it looked to someone else in the middle of that world. In that sense, Olson's poem 'The Librarian' ('when does 128 get me home/who is Frank Moore) was our common ground. And I had written about the tour of Eastern Point Joe gave the guests at my friend Alison's wedding; an experience in itself. He loved to talk, and he loved to ask questions.

One of the things I didn't write about was the fact that Joe's first wife, Rebecca Choate, worked in medicine, which given his background I found a curious paradox, and I would have loved to include the story of Helen, his second wife, diagnosing Joe's writer's block with Unknown Soldiers as being a case of long-lingering post-traumatic stress syndrome. She got him to seek help for it, the block disappeared, and a wonderful book was the result. I would have loved to write more about Joe's politics, his contempt for the war-mongerers and profiteers, for the government regulators driving fishermen out of work and off the sea, and many other issues we discussed. I would have loved to have more time to learn about Gloucester's fishermen, their boats, and their seas. And I would have loved to talk Charles Olson the way Joe had with him: through the night, well lubricated. May Joe rest in peace, and may you all read his books...

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