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 Shipemerging 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. / S.J. Fowler, 3:AM Magazine
Raworth has spent his career being unapologetically radical in his politics, unapologetically hilarious in his manner, and unapologetically complex in his poetics. He has been a particularly transatlantic writer, living in the US for several years in the seventies, and publishing, with Goliard, Charles Olson’s first writing to appear in the UK. He’s particularly beloved for the spicy collages in his annual Christmas cards, which poets all over the world await gleefully every December.
His poetry is, maybe above all, provocative, upending readers’ expectations about how a text should operate, and inviting a level of interpretive participation that pushes the poet, the text, and the audience toward equality as co-partners in making it. Writers have characterized his work by its “laconic egolessness” (Geoff Ward); its speed, “half-emotional, like someone laughing at his own joke while he is telling it” (Fanny Howe); its “tragedian’s sense of the comic as one of life’s fated inevitabilities” (Lyn Hejinian). / Poetry Foundation