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This article is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

Charles Tomlinson's 'Kind of Religious Poetry' Michael Edwards

Seeing, according to the title of Tomlinson's first full-length collection, is believing, but hasn't his point been missed? Not only is this more than a demand for evidence: the stress falls quite as much on the believing as on the seeing, for the adage has been sounded and then reversed. It declares, surely, in the light of the poems that follow, that what is achieved in seeing well is a kind of belief. Surprisingly, therefore, the poetry of this non-Christian will be partly concerned with the question of belief, in its relation to sight; and the concern appears to be increasing.

He has pointed to this religious dimension of his work. In the course of his lecture 'The Poet as Painter' (to be found reprinted in the eleventh issue of Prospice), he discusses the importance for his poetry of his encounter with 'the artistic ethic of Cézanne', an ethic 'distrustful of the drama of personality' and capable of rescuing and celebrating 'the paradisal aspect of the visual', and adds: 'It seemed to me a sort of religion'. The term is loosely applied - the discipline and the outward-seeking energy do not lead, after all, to a meeting with any god - but it is perfectly legitimate. One might have thought that the ethic operates, in the earlier poetry especially, to proclaim the otherness of a physical world in strictly objective terms: doesn't the poem actually about Cézanne, 'Cézanne at Aix', indicate the Montagne Sainte-Victoire as neither delicious ...


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