Derek Raymond reads from “He Died With His Eyes Open”
by Paul Oliver
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.
—John Donne, Holy Sonnets number 10.
As announced in yesterday’s slide-show, MobyLives will be celebrating the life and work of Derek Raymond, whose writing can evoke John Donne and Jim Thompson in the same sentence. It therefore goes without saying that Raymond was a writer of great complexity, who wrote with a nearly unmanning combination of fury and compassion as he chronicled the austerity of Margaret Thatcher‘s England.
Before we further explore the seedy picaresque that was the life of this great writer, we want to first put into context the power and style of his craft. The metaphysical verve of Donne meets the thief’s cant of a SoHo pornographer throughout Raymond’s Factory Series. To appreciate his life one must first get a sense of his craft. It is a spooky voice, capable of being profound, charming and horrifying all at once.
In order to give you a taste of Raymond’s sanguine prose we have today a selection from the audio recording of his last public reading, which we will have an expanded selection from on the final post of this series next Tuesday. Here can be heard one of the most stirring yet graphic selections from the first of the five Factory novels, He Died With His Eyes Open. In this selection Raymond is describing a coroner ply their grim trade. Keeping in mind the profundity of Donne’s tenth Holy Sonnet, you will quickly understand the power with which Raymond plied his own grim craft.
Tomorrow we’ll go back to the slide-show format and explore the fascinating and often dubious occurrences that comprise the life of Derek Raymond.
Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.