Monday, February 27, 2006

Tom Raworth

CA Conrad recommended that I read some Tom Raworth, a UK poet in the modernist tradition.

I found a few poems online, but couldn’t make head or tail of them, and I didn’t get the buzz I get when I read, say, a poem by John Ashbery or Geoffrey Hill, when there’s clearly a lot going on at the level of diction, and at the level of “fuzzy logic”.

The reason could be that I’m not familiar with Raworth’s work and I don’t understand what he’s trying to do. I don’t know how to read him or what to look for. I often feel with (post-) modernist writers that a real attempt at becoming familiar with their work is necessary even to begin to appreciate them.

Raworth was born in 1938, has been writing for many years, and has published over 40 collections and chapbooks, including a Collected Poems on Carcenet Press, one of the UK’s most important poetry publishing houses, so he's clearly someone to take seriously.

Anyway, I’ve decided to make a real attempt to read a Raworth poem and give close attention to it over the next few days. I then plan to post again on whether my opinion on the poem changes as a result of grappling with it. At the moment, to be frank, the poem means nothing to me, but I plan to keep an open mind.

However, I thought I’d post the poem here, and invite comments on it. Anything, positive or negative, would be a help. I’d like to make some headway and would value thoughts and opinions.

I found the poem here

All Fours

though it might have been chronic
around his neck and shoulders
filled with thick high weeds
the road was lined with stone

almost entranced she started
ordering quantities of everything
down the windows of your station
combed and perfectly normal

bees through blood and perhaps
night air while we rode back
followed him to the front porch
and the chimney bricks were fallen

she hasn't heard from him since
filled in on the background
large machines can dig them
forced to take shelter in that house

watching her move about the kitchen
a uniformed policeman was standing
out like magic on the glass
we were living under siege again

two more men came in carrying
pages of an appointment book
not very good lights things happening
younger all clean and prosperous

a grievance a legitimate grievance
rumbled as the rain began
heavily where the blades pushed it
round doorways little brown children

in your car and go somewhere
dead or senseless at the wheel
crouched there taking no part
on the highway the sedan fishtailed

mosquitoes had been real fierce
with that wind coming off
substandard materials and workmanship
years of polishing have dulled

professional sound of a woman singing
damnation at an empty chair
soft black soot coats the slate
too splendidly suburban for adequate

illegible smears of block printing
held motion to a crawl
skimming over book titles
postured alluringly around the room

the important dynamic was between
peculiar and unique powers
to collect on his insurance
that portion of it reported

lovely little thing with eyes
as efficient as she had to be
shambling on down the tissue
range where embers had gone out

looking at everything said suicide
the area about her had the look
you see in old chromos
breathing not daring to smoke or cough

practically an abandoned road
several varieties of mushroom thrived
standing motionless in the shade
small common objects of assault

blown cell with a dusty bulb
an instant to blank shining glass
blocking out the moon and stars
vending machines on every floor


Julie Carter said...

Wow, I, er, well, I hated that.

I didn't follow your link to see if there were other poems, perhaps ones that appealed to me, but this one surely didn't.

In a way, it's my least favorite kind of poem. It isn't intriguing enough to drag me into speculation about meaning, and it isn't pretty enough to make meaning secondary.

Julie Carter said...

After following your link, I found that I like this poem even less:

I think he's just not for me.

Antigone said...

Hmm...initially not overly enamoured by the poem but sufficiently interested to search out more of his work and I like what I've found. My experience of modern / post-modern poetry is similarly that they are best read in bulk in order to appreciate the singular. Thanks for posting that.

Rob Mackenzie said...

I confess I'm still having a hard time with that poem, Julie, and I can sympathise with your reaction.

Antigone, thanks for visiting. And yes, there may be more to Raworth than what I've read so far.
It could be I've chosen the wrong poem, although considering this one has been chosen for The Poetry Archive, I'd assume it's either one of Raworth's favourites or one of his most acclaimed works.

apprentice said...

I've not delved for more of his work, but a first reading of this
just leaves me with the impression of one of those line drawn cartoon flick books. I get jerky flashes of an occasional moving image, but no sense of the meaning of the whole piece. My fingers must be sticky.

Good to hear of poets I've not encoubtered before though.

I'm still getting over R4 broadcasting of Carl Ann Duffy's Rapture. The power of the woman just blows you away. It felt like a very rich meal that I should have eaten more slowly.

Rob Mackenzie said...

Yes, jerky flashes is probably what he's trying to achieve.

I didn't know about the Carol Ann Duffy broadcast, but wish I had.