Poet and playwright Maclennan dies at 79

By Mike Loewe

Grahamstown's much-loved poet, Rhodes English professor Don Maclennan, has died.

Don, as he was simply known to his many friends and fans, died in Port Elizabeth on Monday night at the age of 79.

After a decade of struggling with motor-neuron disease, the rock-climbing poet suffered a stroke in January.

His son, senior South African Press Association journalist Ben Maclennan, said his father died "relatively peacefully" with his wife Shirley nearby.

Maclennan's mind was not affected by the stroke, and he had continued "discussing poetry with friends and listening to poetry right up to the end".

This was despite loss of movement, a very limited ability to communicate and a good deal of pain.

Maclennan also called for his latest poems, a meditation on death and the meaning of life titled Dress Rehearsal, to be read to him by his close friend, poet and Rhodes English lecturer Dan Wylie.

Many of Maclennan's works were published commercially and in his later years, privately.

"He kept on putting out slim volumes year after year," said his son Ben.

A few years ago he won the national Sanlam Poetry Prize.

Friends described his work as raunchy, with some despair, full of love, lean, frank, unpretentious but richly compressed.

Maclennan wrote a number of plays, several of which were performed. He also acted in a number of Guy Butler's plays.

Maclennan was born in the UK. After lecturing at Wits University and the University of Cape Town, he came to Rhodes in 1966 where he taught English for over 40 years.

He is survived by his wife and their children Ben, Joe, David, and Susan.

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