Louis Simpson

I’ve just discovered the work of Louis Simpson, the American poet who died last month at the age of 89. You can read all about him on Bloodaxe’s extensive tribute page here.  Simpson was greatly admired by poets such of Seamus Heaney and Andrew Motion, both of whom praised him highly in obituaries this September.
Simpson appears in Heany’s poem ‘Making Strange’. Simpson was reading in Ireland and Heany writes of their encounter which included a visit to the pub with Heaney’s father.

Simpson had survived the Normandy landings on Utah beach. After the war he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.  His background was about as eclectic as it is possible to get. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1923. His father was partly Afro-Caribbean, partly Scottish, his mother was Russian and Jewish. He moved to New York with his mother and studied at Columbia University. I’m looking forward to getting hold of his collected poems soon. Here is one I found on the Poetry Foundation website. It’s an amazingly concise and apparently simple poem which conveys so much.

After Midnight

The dark streets are deserted,
With only a drugstore glowing
Softly, like a sleeping body;

With one white, naked bulb
In the back, that shines
On suicides and abortions.

Who lives in these dark houses?
I am suddenly aware
I might live here myself.

The garage man returns
And puts the change in my hand,
counting the singles carefully.



  1. Thanks John. Neil Astley (see link above) suggests that Simpson wasn’t part of the right crowd or ‘literary mafia’ in America, and so was been left out of influential antholgies including the Norton. In one of the obituaruaries from last month Andrew Motion says he returns to Simpson frequently and always finds himself wondering ‘How does he do that?’, which is exactly how I felt when I read the poem above.


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