Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rosemary Tonks (born 1932) is an English Poet/Novelist. Recently she has become known by a BBC Radio 4 show called Rosemary Tonks: The Poet Who Vanished. A great show; I think is still available on the internet. It’s what got me interested, or perhaps, intrigued is a better word. Anyway, I’m reeled in. What is lost appears always, I know, more precious, profound and mysterious. It can never be dusted or done away with, forgotten. Think Weldon Kees, The Aspern Papers. I’m reminded of a poem, the last lines, of a very long (terrific) poem by John Malcolm Brinnin called MY FATHER, MY SON I’ve never shaken:

…In your collar box I found
love poems –
Love poems! When had you written them? To whom?
Your heart you said, it “burned,”
it “yearned.”
You said, “You make the winter rains seem glad, my dear.
The sky above me smiles when you are near.”

They were so bad I cried.

Rosemary Tonks is that kind of discovery you hold for a moment and let go. It is that letting go that lingers. After writing 2 slim volumes of Poetry and several novels she disappeared from the public eye after a rumored, probably true, conversion to Fundamentalist Christianity.
That occurred in the 1970’s and very little of her life is known since then.

And these are slim volumes by today’s standards. About 30 pages each. The facts on her life are short. One internet note referred to her as a vivacious blonde. But who knows. That is the closest you’ll get to a jpeg of her. A family member spoke proudly of her hobnobbing with the great literary figures of her day such as Edith Sitwell. She worked for the BBC, writing stories and reviewing poetry. She published her poems in the OBSERVER, the LISTENER, ADAM, the POETRY REVIEW and many other journals of the day. Born in London and educated at Wentworth School, London. Expelled (wouldn’t we like to know) in 1948, she published a children’s story in the same year. I believe it is called Miss Bushman-Caldicott and is in Uncle Mac's Children's Hour Story Book.

At the age of 19 she married. She moved then to Karachi with her husband, where she began to write poetry. Attacks of typhoid and polio forced them to return to England. She lived for a brief time in Paris. In the 1970’s she disappeared from the luxurious home she shared with her banker husband Mickie in Downshire Hill, Hampstad, England.

The poet Andrew Motion wrote of her in 2004: she “Disappeared! What happened? Because I admire her poems, I’ve been trying to find out for years…no trace of her seems to survive – apart from the writing she left behind.”

Only traces of her work appear on the internet or in anthologies. THE ANTHOLOGY OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY published three Tonks’ poems in 2001. It stated that permission to use her poems was obtained from a literary agency, Sheil Land Associates, Ltd. On the BBC show a literary agent, or someone whose name I’ve forgotten, spoke of being unable to obtain her permission to reprint her two poetry collections

It is believed according to another BBC show that Tonks is 77 and living as a recluse in a garden shed and is no longer associated (if she ever was) with a commune of Christians but is indeed still a highly ‘spiritual’ person.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009





I have lived it , and lived it,
My nervous, luxury civilization,
My sugar-loving nerves have battered me to pieces.

…Their idea of literature is hopeless.
Make them drink their own poetry!
Let them eat their gross novel, full of mud.

It’s quiet; just the fresh, chilly weather…and he
Gets up from his dead bedroom, and comes in here
And digs himself into the sofa.
He stays there up to two hours in the hole – and talks
-- Straight into the large subjects, he faces up to everything
It’s……damnably depressing.
(That great lavatory coat…the cigarillo burning
In the little dish…And when he calls out: "Ha!"
Madness! – you no longer possess your own furniture.)

On my bad days (and I’m being broken
At this very moment) I speak of my ambitions…and he
Becomes intensely gloomy, with the look of something jugged,
Morose, sour, mouldering away, with lockjaw….

I grow coaser: and more modern (I, who am driven mad
By my ideas; who go nowhere;
Who dare not leave my frontdoor, lest an idea…)
All right. I admit everything, everything!

Oh yes, the opera (Ah, but the cinema)
He particularly enjoys it, enjoys it horribly, when someone’s ill
At the last minute; and they specially fly in
A new, gigantic, Dutch soprano. He wants to help her
With her arias. Old goat! Blasphemer!
He wants to help her with her arias!

No, I…go to the cinema,
I particularly like it when the fog is thick, the street
Is like a hole in an old coat, and the light is brown as laudanum,
…the fogs! the fogs! The cinemas
Where the criminal shadow-literature flickers over our faces,
The screen is spread out like a thundercloud – that bangs
And splashes you with acid…or lies derelict, with lighted waters in it,
And in the silence, drips and crackles – taciturn, luxurious.
…The drugged and battered Philistines
Are all around you in the auditorium…

And he…is somewhere else, in his dead bedroom clothes,
He wants to make me think his thoughts
And they will be enormous, dull – (just the sort
To kep away from).
…when I see that cigarillo, when I see it…smoking
And he wants to face the international situation…
Lunatic rages! Blackness! Suffocation!

-- All this sitting about in cafés to calm down
Simply wears me out. And their idea of literature!
The idiotic cut of stanzas; the novels, full up, gross.

I have lived it, and I know too much.
My café-nerves are breaking me
With black, exhausting information.


Outside that house, I stood like a dog;
The window was mysterious, with its big, dull pane
Where the mud pastes are thrown by dark, alkaline skies
That glide slowly along, keeping close to the ground.

-- But for the raging disgust which shook me
So that my throat was scratched by her acid
(Whose taste is the true Latin of culture) --
I could have lived the life of these roads.

That piece of filthy laurel moves up and down,
And then the dead rose-leaves with their spat-on look
Where the sour carbon lies...under
The sash of the window comes the smell of stewing innards,

With the freshly washed lavatory -- I know where
The old linoleum has its platinum wet patches
And the disinfectant dries off in whiffs.
Hellish, abominable house where I have been young!

With your insane furnishings -- above all
The backs of dressing-tables where the dredged wood
Faces the street, raw. And the window
With its servant-maid’s mystery, which contains nothing,

Where I bowed over the ruled-up music books
With their vitreous pencilling, and piano keys
That touched water. How forlornly my strong, destructive head
Eats again the reek of the sash window.


I understand you, frightful epoch,
With your jampots, brothls, paranoias,
And your genius for fear, you can’t stop shuddering.
Discothèques, I drown among your husky, broken sentences.

I know that to get through to you, my epoch,
I must take a diamond and scratch
On your junkie’s green glass skin, my message
And my joy -- sober, piercing, twilit.

In the hotel where you live, my Kurdish epoch,
Your opera of typewriters and taperecorders
Boils the hotel with sumptous oompah!
...( my heavy-drinking diamond writes)

Boils it! And loosens the bread-grey crusts
Of stucco from the 19th Century..with an opera
Of broken, twilit poetry
Built from your dust-drowned underworld of sighs.

Epoch, we are lonely. For we follow hotel berbers
Of the past, those who drift in corridors, whose tents
An those derisive manuscripts are dipped in marble
By your backward glance.


Criminal, you took a great piece of my life,
And you took it under false pretences,
That piece of time
-- In the clear muscles of my brain
I have th lens and jug of it!
Books, thoughts, meals, days, and houses,
Half Europe, spent like a coarse banknote,
You took it -- leaving mud and cabbage stumps.

And, Criminal, I damn you for it (very softly).
My spirit broke her fast on you. And, Turk,
You fed her with the breath of your neck
-- In my brain’s clear retina
I have the stolen love behaviour.
Your heart, greedy and tepid, brothel-meat,
Gulped it, like a flunkey with erotica.
And very softly, Criminal, I damn you for it.


Events pushed me into this corner;
I live in a fixed routine,
With my cardboard attaché case full of rotting books.
...If only I could trust my blood! Those damn foreign women
Have a lot to answer for, marrying into the family --
--The mistakes, the wrong people, the half-baked ideas,
And their beastly commnts on everything. Foul.
But irresistbly amusing, that I the whole trouble.

With my cardboard suitcase full of occidental literature
I reached this corner, to educate myself
Against the sort of future they flung into my blood --
The events, the people, the ideas -- the ideas!
And I alone know how disreputable and foreign.

But as a thinker, as a professional water-cabbage,
From my desk, of course, I shall dissolve events
As if they were of no importance...none whatever.

...And those women are to blame!
I was already half-way into my disreputable furture,
When I found that they had thrown into my blood
With the mistakes, the people, the ideas (ideas indeed!)
This little cardboard suitcase...damned
Bloved women...and these books, opium, beef, God.

At my desk (lit by its intellectural cabbage-light)
I found them -- and they are irresistably amuzing --
These thoughts that have been thown into my blood.

I was leaning across your chest;
Like a marble-smith, I made pencilmarks over
Its vanilla skin, its young man’s skin,
Refreshing as the pleasure page in a daily newspaper.
I sniffed you to quench my thirst,
As one sniffs in the sky huge, damp sheets of lightning
That bring down the chablis, hocks, moselles,
And tear cold, watery holes,
Those soaking wet chords from Brahms (...their overflow,
On which you could float a canoe)
Are not more refreshing! Nor is the fragrant gin-fizz
From the glass joint of a rod of grass.

My life cries out for water!
Haughty sheets of newspint, lightning, music, skin!
Haughty bathrooms where the lukewarm swimmer
In his water-colour coat of soap is king.


Winter! We pour our politics into bron walls,
These little eating-houses run with grease like a meat chop.
Each man stuiffs himself with ideas, he eats his pork newspaper.
With two or three cabbage banknotes you can listen to the fog-horn,
The striking of the great clocks (how terrible), the alarm-bells, without fear.

We are ready to slide away into the nearest gutter,
Like old Paris hotels the fogs won’t leave in peace,
In the souks where the young pair off, dog-tired and dirty,
On a February evening...
Nothing holds us upright but some cold green diction, banknotes, a penis.
And they talk of Literature!

But after all, give me again that new green diction.
Oh yes, it’s atrocious. Certainly it’s literature.


I am outside life, and pour the sand
For my own desert, recklessly.
But if some flame splashes over from my arab hours
Into your dismal, shadow-bathing century...

...And burns you, gutter-polished citizen,
With my story -- the drifting novocin of my horizon,
My oases, and my mirages, they’re built of tears
And sheets and sheets of grey glass like an onion,

My story written in the sand! Laziness, despair,
Worlly pressures, traveling, & dirty clothes, the need for sleep,
Contempt for time -- and more despair. Oh yes; I’m a writer
Daring enough to make the sand my paper,

It’s done by living, ignoramuses. Isn’t there always
The unreliability, the cool mouth-bite of a beloved body?
That’s the desert -- where I hurry...slowly, very slowly,
Sometimes...almost stock-still in a sand-drift...hurrying...

While dusty mobs pass, driven by the moon.
...If it blasts you, modernistsfobbed off
With dingy souls, inside a cetury that growls
For its carafe of shady air, oblivion, and psychiatric mash,

Start Drinking! I shall seduce you. From my desk,
The Soho of my driftig, yellowed sentences
Calls out your name...Choked-up joy splashes over
From this poem and you’re crammed, stuffed to th brim, at dusk,

With hell’s casual and jam-green happiness!!
Ah, pour yourself a desert, man-in-the-shadow-skin.
This last minute enamel re-satanizes Europe,
And you will become my arab and my citizen.

I was walking in this shado-bathing century
Pouring sand for my desert
From my desolate high spirits...
.....but recklessly, my arab and my citizen.


I was sitting upstairs in a bus, cursing the waste of time, and pouring my life away on one of those insane journeys across London -- while gradually the wavering motion of this precarious glass salon, that flung us about softly like trusses of wheat or Judo Lords, began its medicinal work inside the magnetic landscape of London.
.....The bus, with its transparent decks of people, trembled. And was as uniquely cremonious in propelling itself as an eminent Jellyfish with an iron will, by explusions, valves, hisses, steams, and emotional respirations. A militant, elementary, caparisoned Jellyfish, of the feminine sex, systematically eating and drinking the sea.
.....I began to feel as battered as though I had been making love all night! My limbs distilled the same intersting wide-awake weariness.
We went forward at a swimmer’s pace, gazing through the walls that rocked the weather about like a cloudy drink from a chemit’s shop -- with the depth and sting of the Baltic. The air-shocks the sulphur dioxides, the gelatin ignitions! We were all of us parcelled up in mud-coloured clothes, dreaming, while the rich perishable ensemble -- as stuffy and excluive as a bag of fish and chips, or as an Eskimo’s bed in a glass dift -- cautiously advanced as though on an exercise from a naval college.
.....The jogging was consistently idiotic, it induced a feeling of complete security. I gave up my complicated life on the spot; and lay screwed up like an old handkerchief screwed up in a pocket, suspended in time, ready to go to the ends of the earth. O trans-Siberian railways! Balloons! Astronauts.


Hurry: we must go south to escape
The bubonic yellow-drink of our old manuscripts,
You, with your career, toad-winner, I with my intolerance.
The English seacoast is more oafish than a ham.

We can parade together softly, aloof
Like envoys in coloured clothes -- on the promenades,
The stone sleeping-tables where the bourgeois bog down,
And the brilliant sea swims vigorously in and out.

There will be hot-house winds to blunt themselves
Against the wooden bathing-huts, and fall down senseless;
Lilos that swivel in the shallow, iced waves, half-submerged;
Skiffs -- trying to bite into a sea that’s watertight!

One whiff of it -- careerist -- and we fall down senseless,
Bivouacked ! Your respirating, steep, electric head,
Filled by its nervous brakdown, will slumber narcotized
By the clear gas that trembles in the sandpit.

Under the pier will be an overdose of shadows -- the Atlantic
Irrigates the girders with enormous, disembodied cantos,
Unless you’re quick -- they pull the clothes off your soul
To make it moan some watery, half-rotten stanzas.

Night! The plasterboard hotels that rattle shanty bedrooms
On the front, are waiting! Without gods, books, sex or family,
We’ll sink to a vast depth, and lie there, musing, interlocked
Like deportees who undulate to phosphorescent booming.


No, this is not my life, thank God...
...worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;
Obsessed first by one person, an then
(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another:
These Februaries, full of draughts and cracks,
Thy belong to the people in the streets, the others
Out there -- haberdashers, writers of menus.

Salt breezes! Bolsters from Istanbul!
Barometers, full of contempt, controling moody isobars.
Sumptuous tittle-tattle from a summer crowd
That’s fed on lemonades and matinées. And seas
That float themelvs about from place to place, and then
Spend hours -- just moving some clear sleets across glass stones.
Yalta; deck-chairs in Asia’s gold cake; thrones.

Meanwhile ...I live on...powerful, disobedient,
Inside their draughty haberdasher’s climate,
With these people...who are going to obsess me,
Potatoes, dentists, peoples I hardly know, it’s unforgiveable
For this is not my life
But theirs, that I am living.
And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.


A mighty air-sea, fierce and very clean
Was gliding in across the city.
Oxygenating gusts swept down and
Chloroformed us, in a light too bright to see by.

On pavements -- china and milk pages
In a good book, freshly iced by the printing press --
October flash-floated. And you and I were moving
With alert, sane, and possessive steps. At home,

My sofa wrote her creaking, narcoleptic’s Iliad
My bathroom drank the Styx (bathwater
Of the Underworld). My telephone took all its voices
And gave them to the Furies, to practise with.

While slowly -- to gigantic, muddy blows of music
From a pestle and mortar -- roof, floor, walls, doors,
My London, stuffed with whisky-dark hotels,
Began to pant like a great ode!

And threw, carelessly, into our veins
Information -- all things we needed to know,
For which there are no words, not even thoughts.
And this was an ode shaken from a box of rats.

The first sky from October’s aviary
Of bone-dry, thudding skies, joyful, free, and young,
With its wings lifted our souls, heavy as cities,
Effortlessly, We were trustworthy again.

Ritz, Savoy, Claridge’s, hotls full of peacock words,
Were beaten while Boreas; and as
Electric frosts scratched the windows
Fitting in their awkward childih pane of glowing stone,

We -- copied the foaming with our souls!
The same ode tore the streets inside us. And lit
Catwalks, sofas, taxis in that city with a light
So bright, even the blind could see by it.


Take care whom you mix with in life, irresponsible one,
For if you mix with the rong people
-- And you yourself may be one of the wrong people --
If you make love to the wrong person.

In some old building with its fabric of dirt,
As clouds of witchcraft, nitro-glycerine, and cake,
Brush by (one autumn night) still green
From our green sunsets...and then let hundreds pass, unlit,

They will do you ferocious indelible harm!
Far beyond anything you can imagine, jazzy sneerin one,
And afterards you’ll live in no man’s land,
You’ll lose your identity, and never get yourself back, diablotin,

It may have happened already, and as you read this...
Ah, it has happened already. I remember, in an old building;
Clouds which had cut themselves on a sharp winter sunset
(With its smoking stove of frosts to keep it cold) went by, bleeding.


His search is desperate!
And the little night-shops of the Underworld
With their kiosks...they know it,
The little bars as full of dust as a stake cake,
None of these places would exist without Orpheus
And how well they know it.

... when the word goes ahead to the next city,
An underworld is hasitly constructed,
With bitch-clubs, with cellars and packages,
So that he can go on searching, deperately!

As the brim of the life is lit,
And breath pous softly over the earth,
And as Heaven moves ahead to the next city
With deep airs, and with lights and rains,

He plunges into Hades, for his search is desperate!
And there is so little risk...down there,
That is the benefit of searching frenziedly
Among the dust-shops and blind-alleys
...there is so little risk of finding her
In Europe’s old blue Kasbah, and he knows it.


I insist on vegetating here
In motheaten granduer. Haven’t I plotted
Like a madman to get here? Well then.

These free days, these side-streets,
Mouldy or shiny, with their octoroon light:
Also, I have grudges, enemies, a religion,
Politics, a new morality -- everything!

Kept awake by alcohol and coffee,
Inside her oriental dressing-gown of dust
My soul is always thinking things over, thoroughly.
No wonder my life has grandeur, depth, and crust.

Ah, to desire a certain way of life,
And then to gain it!
What a mockery, what absolute misery,
Dressing-gown hours the tint of alcohol or coffee.

Am I an imbecile of the first water after all?
Yes, I think I can claim -- now that all this grandeur,
Depth, and crust is stacked around me -- that I am.


As my new life begins, I start smiling at the people around me,
You would think I’d just been given a substantial meal,
I see all their good points.
The railroad sheds are full of greenish-yellow electricity,
It’s the great mad-day hour in London...that suddenly goes brown.
...My stupefying efforts make money
And to have a life!
Well, I’m leaving; nothing can hold me.

The platforms are dense to the foot,
Rich, strong-willed travellers pace about in the dark daylight,
And how they stink of green fatty soaps, the rich.
More dirty can hardly see the newspaper stand
With its abominable, ludicrous papers...which are so touching
I ought to laugh and cry, instead of gritting my teeth.

Let me inhale the filthy air for the last time
Good heavens, how vile it is...I could take you step by step
Back among the twilight buildings, into my old life...

The trains come in, boiling, caked !
The station half tames them, there’s the sound of blows; the uproar!
And I -- I behave as though I’ve been starved of noise,
My intestinr eats up this big music
And my new bourgeois soul promptly bursts into flames, in mid-air.

No use pouring me a few last minutes of the old life
From your tank of shadow, filled with lost and rotten people,
I admit: the same flow of gutter-sugar to the brain...

No one to see me off -- Ah!
I would like to be seen off; it must be the same agonizing woman
Who does not want to understand me, and who exposes me in public,
So that I can turn away, choked with the cold bile,
And feel myself loved absoltely; the bitch.

These carriages, that have heavy brown and black bread
Up their sides! But look out for the moment of cowardice,
It’s Charon’s rowing-boat that lurches and fouls my hand
As I climb on -- exile, Limboist.

...The way these people get on with thir lives; I bow down
With my few deeds and my lotus scars.
Last minutes...last greenish-yellow minutes
Of the lost and rotten hours...faro, and old winters dimmed,
On which the dark -- Yes, the black sugar-crust is forming, London.

I’m leaving! Nothing can hold me!
The trains, watered and greased, scream to be off.
Hullo -- I’m already sticking out my elbows for a piece of territory,
I occupy my place as though I can’t get enough of it
-- And with what casual, haughty, and specific gestures, incidentally.

Tradesmen, Pigs, regenerative trains -- I shall be saved!
I shall go to the centre of Europe; gliding,
As children skate on the diamond lid of the lake
Never touching gound -- Xenophile, on the blue-plated meadows.

Oh I shall live off myself, rainclothes, documents,
The great train simmers....Life is large, large!
...I shall live off your loaf of shadows, London;
I admit it, at the last.


I shall fill up that pit inside me
With my gloomist thoughts; and then
Spread myself, prostrate, inert, on top of them.
Ah, miserable at last! Felicity.
Those who drink the sea with its fishy breath
Cannot know with what dread I gorge to death
On ideologies -- bitter dogma, dialectic, creed;
H.P. Sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, chutney,
Filthy kitchen work that swindles, that says ‘feed’,
Dried-up certitude, monkish inhibition, duty,
That helps us to fall downhill, mad as wine.
There, alone, I see my obligation. But let me begin
By describing my tiredness...a word on my depression.


We talk openly, and exchange souls.
Power-shocks of understanding knock us off our feet!
The same double life among the bores and vegetables,
By lamplight in the coffee-houses you have sat it out
Half toad, half sultan, of the rubbish-heap,
You know the dealy dull excitement; the champage sleet
Of living; you know all the kitchen details of my ego’s thinking,
When, with our imaginations shuddering.
We move arrogantly into one another’s power,
And the last barriers go down between us....

More at home in a jazz pit than with you,
Hotter on the Baltic, when it fries in ice,
Better understood by cattle, grocers, blocks of wood,
My refrigerated body feels the coffin’s touch in every word
You utter, and backs away forever from your bed.
You know me far too well, O dustbin of the soul;
My sex, her nerve completely broken by it, has constructed
Barriers, thick walls, never to be battered down.
On the other side (with a last mouthful of the double-dutch to spit!)
She looks away; and in a wholly opposite direction.


I can hear the eros of grey rain, Veganin, and telephones
Inside your voice.
His wings, once cut out of Greek frost,
Are now the tint of an old, polished street.

Softly croaking out clichés, in the narrow passage
With its gas-pipes and fuse-boxes, he maes us
Zoophytes -- sponging up gravy, nightmares, dullness!
We fill our veins with soapy water, anxious

Tobe good enough...for this latrine whore, Eros.
Always, Arabia deserta; the solitary table
In a restaurant is where we end up,
At the mercy of a salt and pepper pot.

Hosannna! I accept, without quibbling, fly-scrawl,
The carrier-bag of cheap sentences,
On these terms, unless...there is a way to ower them.
I accept. For my Eros is atrocious....

If water-clear moonligt and streets
Sharper than greengages are your drink,
Drunkard, you can be cured. One wound from Eros
And your breast can only drink arrows

With its illiterate and fragrant mud,
(teetoller, dead drunk on your own blood.)
It’s ludricrous! It’s hopeless.
Shut up your underworlds! Close your hearts!

The century is over. Doors are slamming
In the tragic, casual era. The Eros of dead café tunes
Is in your voice....
He salts and peppers me another pair of arms.


What a night! My past is very close.
Dark rag-and-satin April in the city
Moves its water lily breezes, one by one. My fading letters!
My café-au-lait sentences that groaned for love and money.

There are nights when...
Lying an inch or two above the ground inside my head,
Heavy, but ripping with levitations, philosophy’s
Bokhara carpet flies my past in and out of Time.

My past, no older than an April nigh!
A few streets away -- boulevard scab of a hotel
Sh lived in; her armchir voyages inside a bottle;
Her pride, its great sciatic nerve at a word to --

......England is darker than a thrush, tonight,
Brown, trustworthy hours lie ahead. Suddenly
My past hurls her dream toward me!
I steady myself:...but how tender, carnal, blasé it is.

Let me hide, well away from a past that dreams like that.
Away from streets that taste of blood & sugar
When th glowing month smashes itself against the hedges

In the dark. I need ink poured by an abbey;

For... April, old greengrocer, I throw ahead of me a universe
Above your dripping clouds in flames, below
The deep, opulent engorgement of your soul in rut; & so lasting
Time snatches its hours there, like a poppy, when it can.