The first book of Tom Raworth’s poetry I bought was The Relation Ship; a second, 1969, edition of the book originally published by Goliard Press two years previously. Goliard, later Cape Goliard, being an important small press – vital, at the time – set up by Raworth himself and Barry Hall. I would have bought it almost certainly at Compendium in Camden Town, discovering Raworth round about the same time as I did Lee Harwood, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley and Edward Dorn.
It’s battered now with use and faded, but the poems still have freshness and delicacy and precision – you can sense Raworth stepping with care between the words …
(for anselm & josephine)
she said nothing
leaned on the stone bridge the wind
howled in my ear, pause
between the dropping
of the record & the music
dust the wind the streets
already in shadow
we walked someone
playing the piano in a tiled room
said her mother a
mister dante called you
And I’m surprised, reading these early poems again now, the extent to which, in some, Raworth sounds like Harwood and vice versa. This is Tom, but it could be Lee – the title, especially.
YOU WERE WEARING BLUE
the explosives are nearer this evening
the last train leaves for the south
at six tomorrow
the announcements will be in a different language
i chew the end of a match
the tips of my finger and thumb are sticky
i will wait at the station and you
will send a note, i
will read it
it will be raining
our shadows in the electric light
when i was eight they taught me real
to join up the letters
listen you said i
preferred to look
at the sea. everything stops there are strange angles
only the boats spoil it
making you focus further
Towards the ends of their lives they were both living in Brighton and Hove – the same ships, the same sea. The last time I saw Tom was in September, 2015, when, with others, we were reading at the Red Roaster Café in Brighton, as part of an evening celebrating Lee’s life and work – he had died that July – and that’s where the photograph of Tom at this top of his piece was taken. He may have needed a little help up onto the stage, but, as I’ve said elsewhere, when he read he read like a lion.
The final entry in his blog, dated 23rd January, read …
Last Friday after two days of tests, scans, bone-marrow extraction and so on, our Doctor came in the evening to say the cancer had badly metastsized…to bone marrow, liver, right lung, kidney and small bowel. Nothing to be done except palliative care and that I had at most two weeks to live. So that’s it. I can’t see I shall ever get back here. Emails will reach Val firstname.lastname@example.org who obviously will pass along to me whatever she can. Bits of it all have been fun and it’s been a decent run.
He died on February, 8th, the world a lesser place.