Death of a poetmain
Charles Tomlinson, a profound influence on late 20th century poets, has died at the age of 88. Aside from his own verse, often deceptively simple, he made important translations of leading Italian poets.
The publisher and poet Michael Schmidt writes:
‘Octavio Paz led me, a young editor, to him when I first came to England. He in turn led me to Donald Davie, and to so much else. The debt all English readers owe him, as bridge-builder and poet, is inestimable. He said in an interview, ‘there isn’t much real poetry I don’t feel some sort of allegiance to in this swamp of newspaper prose we inhabit’.’
Charles Tomlinson taught me at Bristol. It was in the nineteen seventies, just when he was amassing what he cryptically referred to as an “Aladdin’s cave” of surrealist, decalcomania, black and white graphics. It’s beautiful stuff, partly because the images are simultaneously visually reminiscent of familiar things like clouds and sea and land while remaining strictly non-resolvable and non-scalar. (There is one however, in which he mischievously inserted a miniscule cut-out of a picture of some coach and horses, as though implying he was “driving it through” preconception).
He was extremely kind to me as a student – going beyond the call of duty to encourage my attempts at Williamsesque poetry! And he was and has remained an inimitable “moral presence” in my life. We wrote to each other on and off for decades – about painting and classical music. I introduced him to Giacinto Scelsi and he introduced me to Seghers. So I have been very lucky indeed.
His poetry is too little examined – the tiny cams and levers of his physically inviolving lineation, and exquisite, compelling close writing. In some of his poems it seems impossible to read him TOO closely, and as one takes each line and then the pace and and effect of the components of each line, it becomes like looking into one of his own decalcomania images. Clarity and mystery, all together.