So, some big (for poetry) news in the last week. Firstly, I was startled to look on Facebook and see this obituary for Rosemary Tonks. For those of you who don’t know her work, Rosemary Tonks has always been very much a poet’s poet – the kind of writer who feels like your own secret; whose fans drop little references to her in their work, and circulate her poems in pirated PDFs. Born in 1928, her collections from the 1960s are everything you want poetry to be: profound, sophisticated, sexy, cool, full of Paris and cafés and adultery. She said ‘My subject is city life—with its sofas, hotel corridors, cinemas, underworlds, cardboard suitcases, self-willed buses, banknotes, soapy bathrooms, newspaper-filled parks; and its anguish, its enraged excitement, its great lonely joys.’ The voice of the poems is wonderfully confident, yet full of self-doubt. ‘To make love as well as that is ruinous’ she declares. Or: ‘I have the stolen love-behaviour’. Or: ‘My cafe nerves are breaking me/ with black, exhausting information.’ As a young female writer, I found remarkably few examples of bohemian women poets to look up to – it often felt like only male poets dived into life and experience. Once I’d discovered her work I was intoxicated.
And then I heard that in in the early 1970s, she gave it all up and disappeared. Our Rimbaud.
The obituary, written by Neil Astley, says she lived as Mrs Lightband in Bournemouth, having found solace in Christianity and destroyed or given away most of her possessions. It seems a sad story, in some lights, but there is a kind of purity to it as well. Now we finally know what happened to Rosemary Tonks, we can see she carried on being remarkable and disobedient… If you haven’t read her before, start here with ‘Story of a Hotel Room’ and I sure you’ll soon be seeking out everything she ever wrote.
The other big poetry news (for me) is that the PBS have asked me to be on the judging panel for The Next Generation Poets 2014. I love a list. The original New Generation list came out in 1994 when I was sixteen, and was pretty much my introduction to contemporary poetry as I attempted to read all twenty writers on it; whilst when the last list came out in 2004, I spent hundreds of hours in the pub arguing about who should or shouldn’t have been included. So I’m extremely excited that this time I’ll get to argue FOR REAL with the rest of the panel – Paul Farley, Caroline Bird and Robert Crawford, with Ian McMillan chairing. It’s a chance to celebrate and share poets who deserve to be read more widely – a summer of serious reading awaits.