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This article is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

How Radio Works 4: Tom Raworth - Time, Identity and Tradition John Muckle

5: can the dead speak on radio?

poetry is neither swan nor owl
but worker, miner
digging each generation deeper
through the shit of its eaters
to the root - then up to the giant tomato52

Last time we were discussing some of the paths English Romanticism has beaten across Tom Raworth's poetry, and were waylaid by a German philosopher of temporality, Martin Heidegger, who seemed to have gained entry to our pristine island culture with the aid of a stolen American passport. In this concluding part I will be close-reading some significant poems in relation to Romanticism and trying to nail Raworth's head to the table of the poetic past. He has spoken of English poetry as an airless room, and the effect of his friend Piero Heliczer and other transatlantic sojourners as being one of throwing wide the doors to let the outside light get in; but the stale air of home always has its uses, and I'll try to suggest what is distinctively his own in his thinking about cabbages and kings.

The word 'generation' appears only twice in Raworth's poetry, and each time is used in relation to poetic succession ('generations' is another matter). That 'neither swan nor owl' is obviously built from 'neither flesh (or is it fish?) nor fowl'; neither one thing nor the other, a sport of nature, perhaps, recently discovered in South America. Poetry, in Raworth's book, consists ...

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