Charles Tomlinson (1927-2015)

Richard Swigg is the editor of PennSound’s Naomi Replansky, George Oppen, WC Williams, Basil Bunting, and Charles Tomlinson pages, all among the best collections we have. He wrote this tribute to Charles Tomlinson for Michael Hennessey’s PennSound Daily*:

„Charles Tomlinson was the supreme international poet of his generation. Crossing borders, yet thereby attaining his own distinctive English voice, he showed the adventurous versatility which in the 1950s rejected the surreal romanticism of Dylan Thomas and the anti-romantic reaction of Philip Larkin and the Movement poets. The way forward, by contrast, lay in grasping the possibilities offered by the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore and, most crucially, William Carlos Williams. Later still the Englishman who often felt alienated from the townscapes and literary life of his own country would also come to know America itself, with a closeness that nourished so much of the poetry from the 1960s onward. As partly shown by his 1981 memoir, Some Americans (and more fully revealed by his unpublished letters I am now editing), his personal engagement with American poets themselves — with Williams, Moore, James Laughlin, Robert Creeley, George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, William Bronk and Gustaf Sobin — was exceptional in its range, warmth and personal encouragement, particularly in his efforts to secure British publication for several of them. It was the same generosity of spirit, and openness toward writing often so different from his, which was inextricably linked to a major concern in his own poetry: a regard for all that lies outside the self in the circumambient universe, not to be imposed upon but realized afresh by its metamorphosis into words. The change was also manifest in the life of the poet himself: the transformation via America and its people that enabled him to „re-measure,“ as he said, his own country. To quote the title of a book he published in 1974, including poems on his Midlands birthplace, Stoke-on-Trent, he had found, by means of a transatlantic route that also took in the Italy of Ungaretti and the Spain of Machado, The Way In. But then it must be said that it is the poetry as a whole, from The Necklace (1955) to the last book, Cracks in the Universe (2006), which has secured our way in to the energies, shapes, and processes of a physical world which only this poet could celebrate so triumphantly. That, in the end, is Charles Tomlinson’s enduring, unforgettable achievement.“ –Richard Swigg

*) Introduction with kind permission from Charles Bernstein’s Facebook page.

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