Thursday, September 3, 2015
CHARLES TOMLINSON, 1927-2015
Regarding Ian Brinton's post of the news of Charles Tomlinson's death : First read Tomlinson around '67, at the State Library of Victoria actually, the Dome reading room. Introduced by criticism I came across as the foremost British connection to / interpretation of William Carlos Williams... not insignificant in an age when there was no free flow, so to speak, across the Atlantic or between Australia & the US for that matter... I vividly recall Q & A with Al Alvarez , an extension lecture at the Univ of Melbourne, would have been in 1968 sometime, --Bill Beard heard Alvarez was in town so we attended-- Alvarez fielded a question/comment about WCW with a terse "William Carlos Williams has always been a blind spot for me!" OK as a personal response, but Alvarez was talking in Melbourne with the authority still vested in British opinion... There was laughter & applause from a section of the lecture theatre wch Bill identified as the English department claqueurs! Now that's half a century ago, and tangential to response to Tomlinson... Hearing this news I initially searched the Web for Tacita Dean's film of The Orchard, then realized I'd muddled Tomlinson with Michael Hamburger! --yet when I reread C T I'll be interested to see how the Englishness plays off with the poet's pro Americanism & internationalism...
Sad news as e/one says... but hopefully a good innings... RIP
So here we are, renewing acquaintance with Charles Tomlinson, in particular & what's often my own concern : the status of the English home or base, the English locality, from perspective of cosmopolitan.
Notes as I read Tomlinson's Oxfords & Carcanets at the Shop, pen in hand.
Tomlinson vs John Berger in The Garden? : "this crass reading forgets that imagination / Outgrows itself, outgrows aim / And origin; forgets that art / Does not offer the sweat of parturition / As proof of its sincerity."
The almighty 'what if' : "Had you stayed on / Twenty years ago, had I gone" , apparently resolved in "we / Were right to choose the differing parsimonies / Of the places we belonged to." Echo of Celan, via Billeter advocacy & translation, Melbourne '70s, "our own particular narrowness".
Tomlinson's take on Hopkins, Hardy --which I found myself reading as if about GMH! but is suitably Hardyesque, "You were a poet who put on the manners of ghosts." ('he was a man who remembered such things…')Memorable passage : "Even in paradise, what you would wish for, / Would be to lie out in the changing weathers here, / And feel them flush through the earth and through you, / Side by side with those you had known, who never quite knew you, / Dreaming a limbo away of loam, of bone, / One Stygian current buoying up gravestone on gravestone."
I rise to the figure of Ivor Gurney invoked in the poem for Donald Davie's 70th birthday, To a Yorkshireman in Devon, --Gurney one of my own, enigmatic & unfinished despite Carcanet's great project to retrieve everything from the notebooks & manuscripts… "And yet, is it, Donald, utterly absurd / Like Edward Thomas to accept a war / Convinced it was Eden you were fighting for? -- / That Eden Gurney found on midnight walks / Glimmering along boughs, up nettle stalks, / Through constellations that the Romans knew / Standing on that same damp of Cotswold dew / On sentry go." etc The literary task of the poem is to marry the American & British poetry of mid-century Modernist acclaim. Tomlinson describes the "approbation of your level gaze, / Though not so partial that you cannot praise / Writers whose premisses dispute your own, / Oppen and Olson, Niedecker and Dorn", and then "Gurney himself whom we rejoice to see / With Bunting at our island's apogee."
Good memory of visiting the exhibition of Charles Tomlinson's prints at Cambridge during the inaugural poetry festival of 1975. Reminded now by Timothy Clark's The Poet as Painter chapter in his monograph on Tomlinson, published in '99 in Writers & Their Work. Cezanne's 'objectivity' via Rilke adds another dimension to the discussion of Objectivist poetry with which Tomlinson early interacted (Oppen, Zukofsky, Niedecker et al).