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This review is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

'EAR-RINSED' RICHARD SWIGG, Look with the Ears: Charles Tomlinson's Poetry of Sound (Peter Lang) £35

Since his exclusion from New Lines in 1956, the poetry of Charles Tomlinson has never rested comfortably in the established 'categories' of British poetry; never voguish or solipsistic he has long been that 'odd fish in English waters'. The much cited internationalism of his poetry immediately places him at odds with the cultivated provincialism of the always more popular Philip Larkin. The comparison is useful in that-as Richard Swigg notes in Look with the Ears - both poets make claims to speak on behalf of their native country. Swigg has argued elsewhere that the poet's 'voyaging out has also been a means of coming home'.

Tomlinson long ago rounded on the pusillanimity of the Movement poetic in 'Middlebrow Muse' (1957). Here he identified the 'middle-cum-lowbrowism' of that 'suburban mental ratio' which infected swathes of Movement-driven writing. From the beginning of his career the direction of Tomlinson's writing has been away from the Movement's ironic, self-regarding manoeuvres, what Swigg described in Charles Tomlinson and the Objective Tradition (1994) as 'the impress of the ego', towards a wider world of factuality.

On the publication in America of Seeing is Believing (1958) Donald Davie became a vocal champion of Charles Tomlinson's poetry. For Davie, Tomlinson came to represent the internationalist/ non-Larkinesque possibilities of English poetry. The early neglect of Tomlinson's poetry was subsequently described by Davie as 'a national disgrace' and in the 'Staffordshire' section of 'Some Shires Revisited' (1977) Davie declares 'Your love of our country has ...


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