A note on: Poetry Magazine April reading list



S.J. Fowler
My friend Tom Raworth died recently, so I’m reading his poetry. He was somewhat of a mentor to me. One of my first meetings with Tom was at the last reading Anselm Hollo ever gave, an event I helped organize. After Anselm’s death I felt the urge to seek out every single one of his books and read them from first to last. That experience utterly changed my perception of my writing, and the books I publish. When I read Anselm’s earlier work, when he was in London in the sixties, it felt as though he had lived exact elements of the life I am living now, but just fifty years removed. And tracing his life through his poems I realized these books were a palpable record, a concrete legacy of his life in writing. I knew then I wanted that, and not a big readership, or critical success, not to unleash the “perfect” collection every ten years. Just a quiet record of my life in poetry would be fine. So I decided to publish whenever I felt the urge, or whenever a publisher would support me, which is why I have six collections after eight years writing. I did the same when Tomaž Šalamun died, followed his life in poems, he had been very kind to me too. But Tom was a light to me, he taught me the most, and so I’m in the middle of this journey now, reading him book by book, remembering him this way.

The only other poetry I’m reading is that of my current and former students at Kingston University in London. Like many poets, I support myself through teaching. I think the quality of their work is indicative of a unobtrusively brilliant time for poetry in the U.K., there is so much talent around at the moment. Molly Bergin, Zakia Carpenter-Hall, Matt Navey, Dacy Lim, Julia Lewis—all names to watch. There is also something inevitably poignant and powerful about reading young poets coming into their own alongside the works of a great poet, just departed. A sense of my own place on the wheel is palpable, that I’m still rising but soon to drop off.

tom raworth 1938 – 2017


With Tom Raworth’s death, the world of poetry, and of human intelligence in general, has become lesser. I am not alone in thinking him the finest British poet of his lifetime. For over five decades Tom’s work was a blazing light across the often murky path of British poetry. He was a friend to so many, gregarious and kind, in his person as well as his work on the page. He was a mentor to even more, including myself and many of a new generation of contemporary poets, who will see his legacy as a link between a positively historical period of invention and the maelstrom of our present time. Along with his work, he will also pass on a profound inheritance to those who knew him – while being deeply intellectual as a man, as subtle and complex as his poetry, he was utterly unpretentious, humble, admirably without patience for fools and hypocrites, and viewed common human decency as more important than anything else, including poetry.

Tom led an incredible life, publishing over 40 books, with his first The Relation Ship emerging in 1966. He spearheaded the British Poetry Revival with his unforgettable readings as well as his work with Goliard Press, which published Charles Olson’s first collection in the UK, amongst other now greats. He made a collectively vital impression on the new poetry of both Britain and America in the 60s. But this doesn’t really capture it. The prohibition and complacency readily celebrated in so many literary circles on these islands, along with his natural energy and openness to the world sent him into global recognition. He spent many years in the US and lived for a time in Mexico and Spain. He attended festivals to present his work everywhere from China to Macedonia. At a time when few looked beyond the UK, Tom was showing poets that something powerful and unique had emerged from the post-war scene. In fact it is in America that he found his due, not only in his deep friendships with poets like Ed Dorn and Anselm Hollo, but in a readership. I was once at a festival in central America and was asked by the audience which British poet was most important to me. When I replied with Tom’s name, the American poet Forrest Gander, with a smile on his face, shouted out ‘he’s ours.’ By rights, this is not entirely untrue. The feel of Tom’s Irish parentage, his class and his cosmopolitan outlook ebbing into his always inventive poetry left him at times profoundly underappreciated in the UK while celebrated in America. Certainly in the time I knew him, though he would have immediately spurned any haughty honour, it was unbelievable to me that he was not celebrated more in his home nation.

I am quite sure I am one of hundreds of young poets Tom befriended. I first contacted him very early in my writing, with immense naivety, just cold emailing him, to tell him how much his work meant to me. He had no reason to respond, and yet he did, not only with supportive words about my work, which he had clearly sought out and read in response to my clumsy missive, but then with an invitation to spend time with him and his wife Val in Brighton. That began a friendship which profoundly shaped, or certainly confirmed, my approach to being a poet. The last thing Tom really wanted to speak about was poetry, or so it felt. What we talked about was almost everything but. Over dinner, always laughing, amazingly hospitable, talking about crime novels or Game of Thrones, incidentally I was able to hear Tom and Val tell stories of their life, their friends, with poetry the route to these experiences, but not the subject of them. Poetry was a way into friendships, experiences, communities, and this in itself reflected back into the work. Tom’s poems are always alive to reality, in all their pace and fragmentation and mishearing and insight and beauty. I’d leave with long lists of poets to look up, not because Tom had recommended them, but because their names had been casually mentioned next to brief meetings with Octavio Paz in Mexico or William Burroughs in New York. What I really learned then was that there is sometimes a palpable connection between a kind of writing and a way of living, an ethics in poetics. It was a path being shown to me, knowing nothing, understanding so little, and Tom and Val seeing that, were helping me on. What I know now that Tom is gone, that he had passed on to me and so many others a responsibility to be kind, generous, to be communal and supportive, while always being critical and alive to bullshit, and to protect our work from pernicious collective normativity while building friendships around that task.

Hearing of his death, it feels to me now that we have been left to fend for ourselves, just for a moment, precisely when we need poets and people like Tom and all their wisdom. I wouldn’t want to presume, but I would imagine Tom would not have liked what I’ve written about him, finding it mawkish in its compliments. But his poetry, like his person, was not an assurance, or a correction. It was its own thing, shared for the purpose of being read and nothing more, correcting by example, inspiring new ideas and poems. Through its sheer intricacy, its intelligence, delicacy and humour, for my generation, his work has set a standard. So in both his manner and his poems Tom Raworth has left a palpable legacy, even a responsibility. When I asked him once for a blurb for one of my books that no one has really read or will ever read, he responded it was “doing the work that needs to be done.” What greater compliment can be given, in all its restraint? Following his example I should hope to live a long life, full of friends, full of writing, full of people as down to earth, charismatic, intellectually vigilant and warm hearted as Tom Raworth. He was a great poet, following his own path, and will be sorely missed.

A note on: North x North West Poetry Tour part 2 - Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool

All info and funbatch on this tour is here www.stevenjfowler.com/nxnw and allll videos www.theenemiesproject.com/northwest

Leeds was fire. I’d heard it was a quiet town for the avant garde or literary poetry but this proved untrue, or we got unlucky. In the wharf chambers we had over twenty poets and from many different scenes and backgrounds. From first time readers to folk like Ian McMillan and Robert Sheppard, it ran the gamut. I got there early, in the snow, to be met by Ian in fact, whom, ever the gentleman, helped me shift 100 chairs into the basement punk venue. So many poets I was excited to see and meet for this one, and there was a uniformly playful tone, with a noticeable investment by many. For my own work with Patricia Farrell we wrote a collaborative poem and then I played with some ideas around memory and recitation, recording her poems onto my phone, popping in earphones and reciting from that audio file at parts, and at others, just trying to copy what she had said. Nearly 100 crushed in all told and some of these collaborations will be long remembered, everyone was buzzing

Sheffield was interesting. Again there was talk of a quiet gig but our room at Bank Street Arts was chocked, even dangerously so with much of the gig standing room only with people blocking my camera or stepping on each other’s feet, literally. Some great works here, punctuating a range of stuff, from the high literary to the amusing. At times it leaned into the self-referential, the audience having its favourites / friends, which is really the opposite of the deliberately open Enemies mode, but this is inevitable with such an intense room and a single city scene.

To be honest for me, the whole time in Sheffield was clouded by hearing of the death of Tom Raworth, who was a great influence on me and a friend. I wrote a piece remembering him, feeling emptied and deeply sad, in a Travelodge in the city, having travelled from Leeds and so it was a melancholy day. It took me many attempts to write the piece, I was feeling quite out of sorts. We ended the event with Chris McCabe and I reading some of Tom’s poems and this I will never forget, to have the big audience to read Tom’s work to, a day or two after his passing.

Liverpool is a city I love and this sprawling reading in the beautiful Everyman playhouse, who could not have been more generous as a venue, brought together many friends and great poets from across the region, being the final gig. I had the grand pleasure of working with Nathan Walker, whom I respect immensely and our improvised sound poetry vocal piece was a joy, though it was maybe too intense for the audience. Some fine works here but it was a rare misfire over all in terms of the Camarade tradition. Not quite sure why, but there was an imbalance in the works overall, perhaps a lack of identity in the event, a lack of successful experiment, or engagement with liveness. Happens sometimes.

Certainly I left the event happy because it was the summation of the project, and the final moments of that were spent with my friends, Tom Jenks especially, a brilliant poet and a great person to work with. As ever it’s a privilege to do this work, to such large audiences and such enthusiastic and varied writers.

Mahu: to Tom Raworth - June Tues 7th: the videos

the greatest living British poet has a new book - As When: a selection by Tom Raworth from Carcanet

for Gordon Brotherston

the green of days : the chimneys
alone : the green of days and the women
the whistle : the green of days : the feel of my nails
the whistle of me entering the poem through the chimneys
plural : i flow from the (each) fireplaces
the green of days : i barely reach the sill
the women's flecked nails : the definite article
i remove i and a colon from two lines above
the green of days barely reach the sill
i remove es from ices keep another i put the c here
the green of days barely reaches the sill
the beachball : dreaming 'the' dream
the dreamball we dance on the beach

gentlemen i am not doing my best
cold fingers pass over my eye (salt)
i flow under the beachball as green waves
which if it were vaves would contain
the picture (v) and the name (aves)
of knots : the beachball : the green sea
through the fireplaces spurting through the chimneys
the waves : the whales : the beachball on a seal
still : the green of days : the exit

From As When: A Selection by Tom Raworth published this month by Carcanet and available to order here. 

 As When spans the range of Tom Raworth's poetry to date, and includes work omitted from his Collected Poems (2003) as well as poems previously only issued as fugitive cards and broadsides. This edition of Tom Raworth's poems is beautifully arranged, with an introduction to his life and work long overdue. 

Click  here to order As When by Tom Raworth with 10% discount and free UK P&P from www.carcanet.co.uk 

Tom Raworth was born in London in 1938. Since 1966 he has published more than forty books and pamphlets of poetry, prose and translations. His graphic work has been shown in Europe, the United States and South Africa, and he has given readings of his poems worldwide: most recently in China and Mexico. In 2007 in Italy he was awarded the Antonio Delfini Prize for Lifetime Achievement. He currently lives in Brighton.

Miles Champion was born in Nottingham in 1968. Carcanet Press published his first book, Compositional Bonbons Placate, in 1996. His recent books include How to Laugh (Adventures in Poetry, 2014) and an illustrated interview with the English artist Trevor Winkfield, How I Became a Painter (Pressed Wafer, 2014). He lives with his wife and daughter in Brooklyn, New York.

Click here to order As When by Tom Raworth with 10% discount and free UK P&P from www.carcanet.co.uk.

Modernist mashup at the BAMS modernism now conference reading

The BAMS modernism now conference was the kind of thing I shouldve attended, and maybe contributed too, but didnt, as I find myself finding it difficult to do actual academic study at this point, with so much creative opportunity abounding. Fortunately JT Welsch offered me the chance to share some work with the people of the conference via a reading, a simple reading. The idea was to contextualise contemporary practise, my writing, in the modernist tradition, how it fed my poetry etc...So I took poems from seven modernists and mashed fragments of their work up with my own. I pretty much lifted my Enthusiasm poems from these writers anyway, so their close sitting makes sense.