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Melita Hume Obituary

Melita Hume presenting trophy to young athlete

Melita Hume, who has died at the age of 91, on December 27, 2012, was born in June, 1921 in Matapedia, Canada, the daughter of William and Mary Fraser.  She spent most of her life in Quebec: on the Gaspe Peninsula, then in Melbourne, St-Lambert and Richmond.  Melita was married to the late Ian Hume, an athletics coach and sporting figure, for 64 years. Trained as a teacher at Macdonald College, McGill, she had a lifelong thirst for knowledge and a great love of reading and collecting books that she passed on to all her children and grandchildren, with whom she was a curious mixture of the stern and the imaginatively playful. Melita was characterised by a great sense of composure, integrity, patience and intellectual curiosity. Melita was always willing to debate any idea or issue, often over a hearty home-cooked meal grown from her garden.  She loved to walk or ski in her woods, and was a naturalist, with an expert command of the names of all the flora and fauna of her region. Over the decades she compiled a personal library of tens of thousands of books, which she carefully categorised – Canadian writing and Russian literature were among her favourites.  In her country home she might be found by a roaring fire reading Speak, Memory by Nabokov, or the latest anthology of Eastern Townships poetry; nearby would be annotated issues of Books In Canada.  She wrote out by longhand thousands of index cards, consisting of biographical and critical notes, for a vast project (so far unpublished), which would be an encyclopaedia of Canadian literature. Her love of poetry, books, and global literature has made her the ideal person to name a major international poetry prize after.


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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.