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

‘goodbye, pleasant butter’ Jeremy Noel-Tod
‘i have tasted fire / goodbye, pleasant butter’: when I first read this two-line vanishing act, sometime around the turn of the century, I knew I felt the same about Tom Raworth’s poetry. I had become curious about its swift lyricism thanks to the 1971 Penguin Modern Poets paperback, where Raworth appeared alongside John Ashbery and Lee Harwood. Then I found a copy of tottering state: Selected Poems 1963–1987, published in 1988 by Paladin. And the poem that really grabbed me in this book was, disconcertingly, about what was going on as I moved my eyes over it:


begin
welcome in

appear
poem
in these lines

i will
not draw
your picture


This wide-eyed, breathy, William Carlos Williams-ish invocation of the Poem-Spirit was strangely at odds with the sardonic note sounded by the title above it: ‘How to Patronise a Poem’. One doesn’t ‘patronise’ a poem as one might patronise a restaurant: loyally, politely, generously. To patronise a poem implies putting a poem in its place and snapping one’s fingers for the bill.

Is the tone here patronising (‘begin’)? And, if so, who is the patron? The poet? The reader? Or the voice that I am adopting now to recount this experience – the crritic? And where is the actual poem that we are supposed to be patronising? Waiter!


One quick asterisk later, and the words on the page face about into contradiction:


no. the spark comes. we work together. oh it ...


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