Friday, February 10, 2017


Tom Raworth was an English [Anglo-Irish, says Terence Winch, correctly] poet whose work fit into no categories. He was as unique and original a person as he was a poet. We first met in the late 1960s (if I remember correctly, no later than '71 anyway), and my first impression was my last: what a decent person he was.

Just one small recent example. One of his last emails to me was after poet Ray DiPalma died. Ray had burned a lot of bridges including with poets, once friends, whose earliest work Ray championed and published in his little magazine DOONES. Tom emailed me to commiserate over Ray's passing but also to say he had posted on his web site NOTES (see the list on the lower right of sites I recommend) his appreciation for Ray as a poet and artist, but first of all as someone who had supported Tom as a poet early on by publishing Tom's poems in DOONES.

Tom suffered from a heart condition that folks in our poetry world (back then the outside-the-academy-approved scene) whispered about with the supposition that he would die young. Maybe it was that ever present possibility that gave him the calm I remember him most for (being the exact opposite myself, I envied him and wished I could be like him in that regard).

Where I was always defending my right to even be a part of that world (having grown up in a very different one) which led to me overstating my importance in it, Tom seemed oblivious, or at least unconcerned, about status and recognition and other ego-related aspects of being a poet in the world. And he had the knack, or good fortune, to have the most innovative publishers making his books almost universally precious works of art in themselves (see LION LION or ACT among his early books).

I wish I had seen him more on his visits to the states (I met him when I lived in DC and he came to read and stay at my place) or had traveled to England more myself, but even in his presence he seemed amused though accepting of my frantic energy and volubility in ways that left little room for me to fully appreciate his presence anyway. Fortunately I've settled down over the years in ways that have left me even more appreciative of the gift Tom had for living life at its fullest while appearing, from my perspective at least, to be not taking it too seriously if seriously at all.

He had a good full life for someone so many of us expected not to be around even this long (he was 78, I believe) and summed it up best himself in his last entry on his site NOTES when he knew he had only days to live: "Bits of it all have been fun and it's been a decent run."

My heart goes out to all his family, especially Val, his friends, and his fans.

I'll leave you with this early poem of Tom's (from MOVING). I feel like he's still whispering it calmly in my ear, advice I couldn't hear from anyone else:


you are now
inside my head
better you were
inside your own

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