Another loss to poetry and to all the friends and participants of Poetry on the Lake after John HartleyWilliams (whose memorial page is on
Don reading at the Chiesa Vecchia, Belgirate 2013
It is with great sadness that we have learned of the sudden death of Don Nixon Don was a ‘regular’ at the POTL Celebrations and enchanted us all with his charm, knowledge, kindness and great sense of humour. His lively spirit belied his years, he took enthusiastic part in all events, had an excellent way with sonnets and gave us much fun devising limericks. We shall all miss him immensely.
Don Nixon - an unfailing and mischievous sense of humour, great humility as a writer in spite of winning all manner of competitions and publishing novels and stories, an encyclopedic knowledge of opera and many other things, a repository of anecdotes, a purveyor of wise advice. Someone who viewed life with fresh enthusiasm and wonder despite his 80-plus years. Above all, a great friend. I cannot think of Orta without hearing him chatter his way around the 'Way of Silence(!)' or telling the story of Nietzsche's bench on the way to the sacro monte or entertaining us at the dinner table of the Venus or the Olina.
Don loved Poetry on the Lake and Poetry on the Lake loved him. It’s a unique festival, attended by the Poet Laureate and the Welsh National Poet as well as a bunch of poets both reputable and disreputable from various parts of the world. Don fitted perfectly into this annual gathering, reading his own prize-winning poems and applauding others, cementing friendships at the various bars and restaurants, exploring the legend of the wyvern, the monster that supposedly once lived in the lake, and San Giulio its conqueror. He ascended the ‘sacred mount’ annually, and joined in the readings which took place in front of the shrines dedicated to St Francis. Most typically of all, he relished the end-of-festival dinners which were lively and irreverent and allowed him opportunities to display his mischievous wit allied with great learning. Don was incredibly successful as a poet in the time that I’ve known him, winning prizes not only at Poetry on the Lake but in all sorts of local, national and international competitions. One of his biggest achievements was winning the 500 euro Five Words Competition this year with a fine poem about a fado singer, originally inspired by the flamenco we saw together during our holiday in Seville. Of course poetry was only one of his writing achievements, which included a western and crime stories. He was great at telling stories and held people with his tales of his travels and his time as an OU tutor in prisons.
“I’ll miss Don – his way of always looking as though he wants to be naughty but not being quite sure whether it’s allowed! Like Derek, when I think of Poetry on the Lake, I see him there, at a table at the Venus, by the lakeside, looking happy and ready for anything.”
Don always claimed he wasn’t a real poet. But he was of course. Also a talented short story writer, and the author of the only western I ever read. He took enormous joy in his writing, having come to it late in life and revelling in the new places it took him and the new friends he made. Both he and his work were enormously entertaining, whether he was reading his poems around Orta or regaling us at dinner with his anecdotes. He had an eye and ear for the ridiculous, and his sense of humour could be wicked but was never cruel. I particularly cherish the memory of his ‘busking’ on the Sacre Monte, posing beside the picture of Hildegarde of Bingen, or ‘confessing’ on the Way of Meditation. Orta has lost one of its great characters and he will be much missed by those of us who were lucky enough to be counted among his friends.
I saw Don in mid-June, when he gave myself and our party of a dozen Italians a guided tour of Weston House. How we enjoyed his charm and erudition! How we appreciated his kindness and generosity! Such a lovable man...
I remember him talking about how late he’d come to writing, and it was always clear what a joy it was to be doing it, and in such good company. Orta played a big part in making the last years of his life happy and fulfilled ones.
I would like to express my sadness on hearing the news of the death of Don Nixon, we met him last year and he was so welcoming, funny and kind, giving the school his ""western". I had hoped to meet him again but I will remember him warmly.
I was so sorry to learn of Don's death. I had come to appreciate his sense of humour and unfailing cheerfulness and will miss his presence at Poetry on the Lake. As I grew to know him better over the last few years at Orta, I saw something of his gentle, kind soul which was often hidden by his mischievous and self-depreciatory sense of humour, especially when he read his poem inspired by meeting former soldiers with PTS syndrome and revealed that he had been visiting some in care centres. I am pleased that he seemed to be so thoroughly enjoying his retirement and had spent the last few years zooming round Britain performing at poetry festivals, and even a trip to Cork, where he carried off prizes. His enthusiasm and dedication was inspiring. The Poets' Dinner will not be the same without him.