Tom Raworth, innovative poet who helped to shake up the 60s, dies aged 78

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Tom Raworth, a poet highly regarded on both sides of the Atlantic, and who was seen as a key figure in the modernist-inspired movement known as the British Poetry Revival of the 1960s and 70s, has died at the age of 78.

His publishers Carcanet said: “We are devastated to announce the passing of great poet and great friend Tom Raworth.”

Raworth was born in London, spent a number of years in the US, and more recently lived in Hove. As founder of Matrix Press and co-founder of Goliard Press, he was instrumental in promoting the work of a number of American poets associated with the Black Mountain School, including Edward Dorn, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson.

He was a prolific poet, with over 40 books and pamphlets published since 1966. He was poet in residence to Kings College, Cambridge, and also won awards, and Arts Council funding for his writing. His Collected Poems were published by Carcanet in 2003. He was also a visual artist whose shows were seen in galleries in Europe and America.

Not long before he died the literary critic Ian Brinton blogged: “Fifty-five years ago, only just yesterday, Tom Raworth published the first issue of a new magazine, Outburst …  his first issue of Outburst contained work by Levertov and Olson as well as introducing the London world to Anselm Hollo, Gary Snyder, Edward Dorn and Robert Creeley. The Americans shared the sheets of this new venture with Michael Horovitz, Pete Brown and Gael Turnbull: American and British poetry would never be quite the same again!”

His long-time friend and fellow poet Tom Pickard said: “Tom was a wonderful, kind man and a great poet. He was modest and funny and ever inventive. He was a loyal friend and I will miss him greatly. Our world is a better place for him having been in it.”

Nicholas Johnson, poet, publisher of Etruscan Books, and organiser of the annual Black Huts festival in Hastings, said: “I think of Tom Raworth's fluid lines of prose; the Letters from Yaddo from isolation and creation - the east end of London vital and tough in A Serial Biography.

Carlyle Reedy said of Tom Raworth's work that ‘to do what he did, of such excellence, must have likely required a rigorous, even pitiless, capacity for editing his own work’.

Johnson added: “Visualise and hear the razor sharp, quick vital poetry, blocks of sound he made. Structures. Titles of books were poems in themselves. Stag Skull Mounted, Clean & Well Lit, Moving, Ace, Earn your Milk. The vibrancy of dub, jazz, new wave film and music, ran through the shoulders of his poetry. Making. Watching. Listening. Hearing. Spreading news, sharing other people's writing, The craft in the structures of his poems, prose, collage, recordings, readings.” He recalled Raworth “opening a map, unfurling it down the front of the Shelton repertory theatre stage in 1993, for his reading of 'West Wind', the mysterious sound instrument he took from his pocket at readings”.

Poet and Write out Loud reviewer Steven Waling said: “I never met Tom Raworth nor saw him perform, but when I acquired a copy of the big Collected Poems, I felt as if he and his considerable wit and intelligence were in the room with me. His poems beg to be read at speed, then read again; his longer poems especially. Sometimes they would interrupt themselves with drawings or capitalised exclamations; in one poem a large exclamation mark.

“As he says himself: “sentenced he gives a shape / by no means enthusiastic/ to what he saw”; but it’s the way he shaped his words that was so marvellous. He collaged his own words together so that each line led you in a new direction; his poems never settled into a narrative or told a cute little anecdote. You had to keep up with the speed of his mind, which was always charging ahead to the next phrase, next image, next line.

“He was a great inspiration to a whole generation of linguistically innovative poets, and showed us what it was possible to do with language as a game. Yet through all the language play, there is a constant element of political nous and wisdom. He will be missed; but his legacy is his considerable oeuvre.”

 

 

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