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

Tom Raworth’s poetics of interruption
Glancing Off
Redell Olsen
IN AN EARLY POEM by Tom Raworth he defines, ‘being dead’ as ‘not to be able to brush the dirt from your fur’ (‘September Morning’, The Relation Ship, 1966). In this poem the suspension of the line, (‘drops,   being dead’) holds a blankness that marks a succession from incomprehension to recognition – both aspects I am sure many felt on learning that this influential and important poet had passed away: incomprehension for what British poetry could be without his forceful and steady contribution, followed by a recognition that there is a body of work here that will continue to shape and define what poetry can hope to become for many years.

Raworth’s Moving (1971) has an epigraph from John Clare: ‘Even the dearest that I love the best / Are strange – nay, rather – stranger than the rest.’ In Raworth’s poetry there are multiple strands: the recursive romanticism of the late sixties and early seventies, the cool investigation of the conceptual possibilities of language, the politics and poetics of form and the ongoing, often satirical, dialogue with the world around him, its verbal, visual, digital and linguistic remediation in whatever shapes were interesting to him at the moment of writing.

The poems by Tom Raworth that are ‘dearest’ to me are indeed ‘rather – stranger than the rest’, even to those of his nearest contemporaries: Act (1973), Log book (1976), Writing (1982). These poems seem to delight in their resistance to a conventional critical assimilation and that is their strength but also the reason why ...


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