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

Reading Tom Raworth’s Ace
'lay back / play back'
Marjorie Perloff
ONE OF TOM RAWORTH’S EARLIEST MEMORIES, he recalls in a 2006 interview,1 was of his father ‘going around in a uniform’. Born in 1938, young Tom was to be deprived of his father, who was stationed in Burma during World War II, for the first six formative years of his life (1939–45). Living in South London, the boy experienced the Blitz at first hand. There were not many children in his school, because most had been evacuated to the nearby Kent countryside. Those who remained spent their schooldays wrapped in thick wool coats in freezing classrooms; at night, the family spent much time in the local bomb shelters.

Raworth expresses no bitterness about these conditions, no anger or self-pity. In the same vein, at age eighteen, when he failed his obligatory physical exam for military service – there being, it turned out, a hole in his heart – he was, by his own account, less despondent than curious. Undergoing one of the first and most successful cases of open heart surgery, Raworth retained his sense of humor, of the absurd. However dark the material of his poetry – and it was often very dark as Raworth contemplated the political nightmares of the later twentieth century – he always recognised that the poet’s task is not to preach, but to confront his world with as much energy, exuberance, and comic/satiric imagination as possible. Raworth’s oeuvre is remarkably free of all illusion.

Consider that astonishing long poem called Ace, a sequence of more than ...


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