Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tom Raworth: Tottering State

Bliss! another cold front has descended, which down here means that one is almost tempted to put on a sweater at night (longtime Florida residents can be seen venturing out of their condos in parkas and mittens…).
After many dippings-in, and almost a decade & a half of having the book glare down at me with slighted hurt from the shelf, I finally read thru Tom Raworth’s Tottering State: Selected and New Poems 1963-1983 (The Figures, 1984). (And this after having read a half dozen of his single volumes, as well.) The selection’s been superceded at least twice now, I believe, but in cases like this I’m inclined to think of books of poetry as rather like fine wines; the pages might yellow and get spotted, but the contents are just as satisfying as when they were first bottled.

I saw Raworth read at least twice back in the day, when I was living in the DC area and found myself at least on the margins of a very lively “scene.” The nerve center of that scene of course was Rod Smith, working at Bick’s Books in Adams-Morgan (where I got Tottering State) before he shifted over to Bridge Street Books in Georgetown. I remember Raworth, a big shaggy hulk of unreconstructed Englishness, lighting up a cigarette between readers at Bick’s upstairs reading space, then, finding no ashtrays, flicking his ash into the Tibetan bowl gong that Rod used to summon the audience to quiet down and prepare for poesy. Raworth reads like no-one I’ve ever heard: a dense, rapid spray of words, poems over before they seem to have begun, the performance almost as lively as the mercurically shifting words on the page.

There’re a lot of books of poetry asking me to read them, but I regret having put off Tottering State for so long. For one thing, aside from the sly precisions of Raworth’s musical ear, the constant bitter ironies, and the poised sense of line, the poetry is really a great deal of sheer fun. Take, for instance, “Love and Pieces,” whose title seems to play games with early Creeley, but whose last lines place us smack-dab in the neighborhood of Raworth’s own rapid-fire delivery:
met language static
on the street
thinks he’s one
of a new elite
you have to learn
you can not teach
“there goes the town of spanish boot”
“only the buildings”
julius reuter
service de pigeons
i can not prove a second ago
to my own satisfaction

No comments: