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Tom Raworth, Collected Poems (Carcanet) 


The first poem by Tom Raworth I ever read was “You Were Wearing Blue”. It’s in Michael Horovitz’s 'Children of Albion' anthology:

the explosions are nearer this evening
the last train leaves for the south
at six tomorrow
the announcements will be in a different language

At the time I’m not sure I knew why it appealed to me. Now, I’d say things like it’s really crisp, throws a light across what I carelessly call “life”, and it’s in a language that’s my language, which is not the language someone like Ted Hughes used, and the poem seems full of air and clarity and possibilities and

listen you said i
preferred to look
at the sea everything stops there at strange angles

I had no idea what those line breaks and spaces were doing (although I managed to work out that you could read some of it in two ways because of the layout) and it wasn’t until I’d been to university (Raworth wasn’t on any course, I read him while I was there, but university taught me, in its own way, how to read), and wandered around in The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, saw some life, and stumbled through a whole other mish-mash of reading that I – no, not “understood” how this stuff worked exactly but, rather, understood how it’s okay to intuit something from a poem rather than “get it”. And though you might “get” how a poem works and how form “works”, it’s not what you think about when reading. When writing, it’s a different matter.

2. A(C)(W)E

I’m in awe because it looks like what he does is write down just about anything, and it becomes “a poem”. Don’t try and write like him: it’ll end in tears. I think if you tried to identify a structure and/or tried to explain how these poems are constructed (correct word) you could end up sounding as unnecessary as Marjorie Perloff (Times Literary Supplement, 30 May 2003). And you wouldn’t want to do that.

What a poem “Ace” is! And a lot of the time Tom Raworth’s poems are really funny. Or, they have funny things in them. Other times they knock you dead. Actually, they always knock me dead, but they’re not always funny. I’m writing down as I think this. Don’t try and write like him. You’re not him.


If you try to explain how these poems are constructed you’d at least be advised to refer to the letter Raworth wrote to me as his contribution to joe soap’s canoe #14, and to a poem he refers to there: (“I thought I’d pretty clearly stated my method in…”) “El Barco del Abismo” (“…over twenty years ago, and I don’t think it’s changed much.”) which is on page 42 of the Collected. This extraordinary little poem is followed by more words about where each line came from:

Title from Sr. Martinez Ruiz Latin American History lecture on Thursday, May 9th, 1968 at noon. I was so impressed I stopped listening. 

Four lines from a Spanish Vocabulary, Sunday, May 12th, about 4.p.m. Something else Roy pointed out in the same book: in a list of words to do with crime, police, the law, etc. was the Spanish for 'tapered trousers'. 

And, of course, these “notes” are part of the poem. Probably. They are, at least, onthe same page and under the same title and go towards making up the experience of reading the poem. (I’ve just realised how boring this statement is. The poems deserve better.)

This stuff’s quick. It looks like what he does is write down just about anything, and it becomes “a poem”. But it’s also considered, and considered carefully. You’ve only got to try this method yourself and see what a mess you make. Re-reading and re-rea-reading reveals (slowly) how carefully these poems are made. Someone has probably already written a thesis about it.

I just spent this afternoon with “Ace”, and it strikes me how I feel very relaxed reading these poems: I’m not struggling to understand them, and I’m not trying to find a narrative line, or even a reason for any of it at all. What I’m doing is surrounding myself with the words. Enjoying being with them. Reading a few lines and getting one “meaning”, then reading them again and finding something else. And enjoying it. Okay, I might be missing loads, but there’s lots of time left to read it again. And again. I think Tom would rather we enjoy the process of reading poems than be able to explain it.

This appreciation of Tom Raworth was first published in The North


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