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This article is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Tom Raworth’s Writing
‘present past improved’: Tom Raworth’s Writing
Drew Milne
TOM RAWORTH’S GENEROUS WORK offers many different types of poetry to celebrate, from the miniature to the micro-epic. My favourite is Writing. In the 1982 Figures edition of Writing, seven thin columns form an outsize double page landscape.1  I treasure the way rust from the book’s staples is spreading into the book’s gutter of my copy, as if as a home for metallic lichens. The poem’s opening lines predict as much: ‘spears of laughter / hiss for a time / then clank across / leaving flakes of rust / to fox pages’.

Writing asks for a sustained sitting – ‘make a fascinating / half-hour’ – but it is not so long as to defeat the attempt to hold its entirety within the mind over a reading. It’s a profound tonic. Some of Raworth’s admirers prefer his shorter poems, a form in which he evidently excelled, but Writing is, for me, the apex of his work. There’s not much point extracting chunks of Writing to stand for the whole: it shape-shifts so continuously as to mock that game.

Tom Raworth’s importance to poetry over the last fifty years is hard to overstate. He had the rare capacity of making friends – in person and through writing – across poetry’s rival tendencies. For many, even those who scarcely knew him, he was Tom rather than Raworth. Pivotal within so-called ‘Cambridge school’ and ‘British Poetry Revival’ poetries, he is probably the least academic and the most widely liked British avant-garde poet of his generation. He could also be construed as British and Irish ...


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