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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

FORM FOLLOWS FORM CHARLES TOMLINSON, American Essays. Making it New (Carcanet) £12.95 pb

Charles Tomlinson explains in this volume that he first read Ezra Pound standing in a bookshop in his little war-time town, wondering whether to spend the required 2/6 on it. Tomlinson spent two years thumbing through the verse before finally buying the book, at which point he should probably have been offered a discount for purchasing a used book. Tomlinson's revelatory moments with the Pound provided an entry point for him into American poetry, one that he saw could freshen up contemporary English poetry and attitudes. At the simplest level of cultural exchange, though, what is striking about Tomlinson's anecdote (it must strike him too, since he uses it more than once in these essays) is just how difficult cultural interchange used to be. As Tomlinson mentions, during the pre-xerox, let alone preinternet, days of the 1940s and 1950s it was a struggle simply to obtain books published in other countries; travelling academics or poets would bring back the latest from the 'Movement' or the 'Beats' as though they were dispatches from Ulan Bator. Lack of simple familiarity with texts, let alone knowledge of who was writing and how, only hardened the cultural divide. An English reviewer could write in 1948 that there was no such thing as American poetry to very little dissent and more or less repeat the charge in 1966 (when he discerned the 'beginnings' of American poetry) with very little more. Tomlinson keeps the extent of international miscommunication in mind throughout American Essays but he ...


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