Tom Raworth

Tom Raworth

The internet never ceases to amaze me.
Quite by accident I stumbled across Tom Raworth’s website the other day.
Raworth was the poet I wrote my final year dissertation on at Cambridge. No matter that it was panned by the Faculty, for me it was the chance to immerse myself into that kooky, intensely creative world of UK small-press poetry. From the late 60s till the early 90s these writers took control of the means of production by printing their own work in stunningly crafted print runs. This meant they were able to stand outside the constraints of the literary market place and do their own thing. With the Borderization of literature in the 90s that became increasingly difficult…. But back in the day they were wildly experimental and edgey – and that always got my vote. And Tom was perhaps the edgiest of the lot.

It was sad to see how much of Tom’s website is dedicated to obituaries of fellow poets who have recently died. Sad and astonishing that Tom is still around to lay the wreaths. By rights, he should have been the first to go. He’s suffered from an extraordinary heart condition for years and has endured a fairly relentless string of bad health, tragedy and economic hardship. But he’s still writing….

And I’ve always loved his work. It’s infuriatingly hard to pin down, weirdly allusive, yet brashly concrete at the same time. My favorite was Eternal Sections that he wrote in the late 80s. It’s a long sequence of 14-line stanzas, sort of mutilated sonnets with a shadowy narrative and a spiralling network of allusion to a vast array of topics. It’s a dizzying read but wonderful.

in a haze of nerve-gas
he fell backwards in pure reflex
drifted down the access tube
full of references
altered to magnify
a feeling of rightness
abstract patterns shifting
into jagged vertical tattoos
whirling the line through long arcs
learning to adjust
the way flames leapt
in all that magnificence
into flashing monochrome images
created in his wake

You can get his Collected Poems from Carcanet. (Though you should probably buy it somewhere other than the late capitalist Behemoth of amazon.com, considering Tom’s small press heritage.) It’s nice to have all his poetry to hand again. I’ve lost most of my poetry collections in a multitude of Zen housemoves. It used to be the most important thing in my life and now – I can’t remember the last book of verse I picked up. Of course, the new collections doesn’t have any of the small-press glamour of those original volumes I handled like sacred Torahs when I was writing my dissertation, but it means more people will get to read Raworth, which is great.

He’s also a wonderful artist, One of his beautiful collages still has pride of place in my picture collection.

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