Charles Tomlinson

b. 1927

Poet, artist, and translator Charles Tomlinson was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1927. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, he read English at Queen’s College Cambridge, studying with poet Donald Davie who was an early influence and later became a close friend. Tomlinson taught elementary school before joining the University of Bristol, where he taught for 36 years. His collections of poetry include Relations and Contraries (1951), American Scenes and Other Poems (1966), To Be Engraved on the Skull of a Cormorant (1968), The Shaft (1978), Jubilation (1995), Skywriting and Other Poems (2003), for which he won the New Criterion Poetry Prize, and New Collected Poems (2009). Tomlinson’s work is known for its attention to both visual and aural perception, its painterly effects, and its cosmopolitan, even urbane, style and subject matter. Though he writes of the natural world, especially in his early work, his philosophical bent and interest in other places and cultures—as well as his highly regarded work as a translator—have made him somewhat of an outsider in British poetry. According to the critic Michael Hennessy, “Tomlinson is the most international and least provincial English poet of his generation. At a time when most of his contemporaries were drawing inward, nursing and grooming their ‘Englishness,’ Tomlinson was traveling, engaging with the world, and enriching his work through the agency of American, European, and even Japanese poetic traditions.”

Tomlinson has long been a champion of America and American poetry. He has held visiting positions at the University of New Mexico and Princeton University, and his collection A Peopled Landscape (1963) was influenced by the landscape of the American Southwest, while Notes from New York, and Other Poems (1984) was prompted by a visit to New York. Essay collections like Some Americans (1981) and American Essays (2001) also treat his long-standing relationship with American culture and poetry. In an interview with the Paris Review he remarked that his “sense of America cohered out of many fragments, among them that tiny reproduction of a Georgia O'Keeffe, utterly unknown here at the time. I came to America at a period when the New York School had shifted attention from Paris to that city. For me, it was one of those periods of rapid assimilation—Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, particularly Gorky. But then I wanted to know more about what came before and gradually, or rather in quick leaps during the years, I managed to acquaint myself with the whole long story, going back to the Hudson River landscapes of Frederic Church and other nineteenth-century painters.” A frequent traveler to America, Tomlinson was also influenced by the work of American poets quite early in his career and has always admitted an affinity for American modernists such as William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, George Oppen, and Louis Zukofsky, as well as artists like O’Keeffe and Gorky. Critical Quarterly writer Alan Young compared the American modernist poets’ project to Tomlinson’s “own ‘basic theme’, in Tomlinson’s words: ‘that one does not need to go beyond sense experience to some mythic union, that the “I” can only be responsible in relationship and not by dissolving itself away into ecstasy or the Oversoul.’” And Jonathan Barker, also quoting Tomlinson in a Times Literary Supplement article, pointed out that Tomlinson rejects “symbolic poetry as representing ‘a view of life too subjective to allow accurate contemplation of the outside world.’”

Tomlinson is also known as a translator, and has translated work by César Vallejo, Attilio Bertolucci, Antonio Machado, and Octavio Paz, with whom he wrote the collection Airborn/Hijos del aire (1981), a bilingual edition of a single poem which each poet translated into the language of the other. In his Paris Review interview, Tomlinson noted of his work with Paz on Airborn: “I simultaneously came to realize just how many of our poets, going back to Chaucer, had been great translators, all the time extending the possibilities of English by introducing new forms and new ideas for poetry. So I went ahead and edited The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation (1980).”

Tomlinson’s work as an editor—he has also edited Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays (1969) and William Carlos Williams’ Selected Poems (1976)—and translator, in addition to his poetry and art, have secured his place as one of Britain’s most important and diverse talents. In learning his craft from numerous poets of varied backgrounds, Tomlinson has found a style all his own; critics like Carl Bedient now consider him to be "unmistakably an original poet." Bedient continued in British Poetry since 1960: "There is in him, it is true, a measure of Wordsworth ... [but] Wordsworth discovers himself in nature—it is this, of course, that makes him a Romantic poet. Tomlinson, on the other hand, discovers the nature of nature: a classical artist, he is all taut, responsive detachment." Ultimately, it is difficult to categorize Tomlinson as either distinctly British or American. "To my mind," the poet Ed Hirsch has said, "Tomlinson is one of the most astute, disciplined, and lucent poets of his generation. He is one of the few English poets to have extended the inheritance of modernism and I suspect that his quiet, meditative voice will reverberate on both sides of the Atlantic for a long time to come."

Charles Tomlinson became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998. He has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Italian Premio Internationale Flaiano per la Poesia and the Bennett Award from the Hudson Review. He was made a CBE in 2001 and received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of Gloucestershire in 2008.

Career

Poet and artist. University of Bristol, Bristol, England, lecturer, 1956-68, reader in English poetry, 1968-82, professor of English, 1982-92. Visiting professor, University of New Mexico, 1962-63, and McMaster University, 1987; O'Connor Professor of English, Colgate University, 1967-68, 1989; visiting fellow, Princeton University, 1981; Lamont Professor of English, Union College, 1987. Has had one-man exhibitions of his graphic art in London and Cambridge, England, a three-year travelling exhibition with the Arts Council, and a Poetry Society exhibition.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • Relations and Contraries (pamphlet), Hand and Flower Press, 1951.
  • The Necklace, Fantasy Press, 1955, revised edition, Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Solo for a Glass Harmonica (limited edition), Westerham Press, 1957.
  • Seeing Is Believing, Obolensky, 1958, revised edition, Oxford University Press, 1960.
  • A Peopled Landscape, Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • (With Tony Connor and Austin Clarke) Poems: A Selection, Oxford University Press, 1964.
  • American Scenes, and Other Poems, Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • The Matachines: New Mexico, San Marcos Press, 1968.
  • To Be Engraved on the Skull of a Cormorant, Unaccompanied Serpent, 1968.
  • (With Alan Brownjohn and Michael Hamburger) Penguin Modern Poets 14, Penguin, 1969.
  • The Way of a World, Oxford University Press, 1969.
  • America West Southwest, San Marcos Press, 1969.
  • (With Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubard, and Edoardo Sanguineti) Renga: A Chain of Poems (in Spanish, French, Italian, and English), Gallimard, 1970, all-English edition translated by Tomlinson, Braziller, 1972.
  • (And graphic artist) Words and Images, Covent Garden Press, 1972.
  • Written on Water, Oxford University Press, 1972.
  • The Way In, and Other Poems, Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • The Shaft, Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Selected Poems, 1951-1974, Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • (With Paz) Airborn/Hijos del aire (in English and Spanish), Anvil Press, 1981.
  • The Flood, Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Notes from New York, and Other Poems, Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • (And graphic artist) Eden: Graphics and Poems, Redcliffe Press, 1985.
  • Collected Poems, 1951-1981, Oxford University Press, 1986, expanded edition published as Collected Poems, 1988.
  • The Return, Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Annunciations, Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Selected Poems, Exile Editions (Toronto), 1989.
  • The Door in the Wall, Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Jubilation, Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Selected Poems, 1955-1997, New Directions, 1997.
  • Vineyard Above the Sea, Oxford Poets/Carcanet Press, 1999.
  • Skywriting, Carcanet Press, 2003.
  • Crack in the Universe, Carcanet Press, 2006.
  • New Collected Poems, Carcanet Press, 2009.

TRANSLATIONS

  • (Translator) Versions from Fyodor Tyutchev, 1803-1873, introduction by Henry C. Gifford, Oxford University Press, 1960.
  • (Translator, with Gifford) Castilian Ilexes: Versions from Antonio Machado, Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • (Translator with Gifford) Cesar Vallejo, Ten Versions from Trilce, San Marcos Press, 1970.
  • (Editor and translator) Paz, Selected Poems, Penguin, 1979.
  • (Translator and compiler) The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation, Oxford University Press, 1983.

CRITICISM AND ESSAYS

  • The Poem as Initiation, Colgate University Press, 1967.
  • (Editor) Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1969.
  • (Author of introduction) Simon Cutts, A New Kind of Tie: Poems, 1965-68, Tarasque Press, 1972.
  • (Editor) William Carlos Williams: Critical Anthology, Penguin, 1972.
  • In Black and White (graphics), Carcanet, 1976.
  • (Editor) William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems, Penguin, 1976.
  • (Editor) The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation, Oxford University Press, 1980.
  • Some Americans: A Personal Record, University of California Press, 1981.
  • Poetry and Metamorphosis (lectures), Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • American Essays, Carcanet Press, 2001.
  • Metamorphoses: Poetry and Translation, Carcanet Press, 2003.

Also author of introduction to The Manoevring Sun: An Anthology of Verse by People Who Live or Work in the Bristol Area, compiled by Alan Crang. Contributor of poetry and reviews to Nation, Hudson Review, Spectator, Essays in Criticism, Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Nation Review, Sewanee Review, and Times Literary Supplement. A selection of Tomlinson's manuscript collection is kept at the British Library in London, England.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Bedient, Calvin, Eight Contemporary Poets, Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 45, 1987.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1960, Gale, 1985.
  • Donoghue, Denis, The Ordinary Universe, Macmillan, 1968.
  • John, Brian, The World as Event: The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson, McGill-Queens University Press, 1989.
  • O'Gorman, Kathleen, editor, Charles Tomlinson: Man and Artist, University of Missouri Press, 1988.
  • Rosenthal, M. L., The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction, Oxford University Press, 1960.
  • Rosenthal, M. L., The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II, Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Schmidt, Michael, and Grevel Lindop, editors, British Poetry since 1960: A Critical Survey, Carcanet, 1972.
  • Swigg, Richard, Charles Tomlinson and the Objective Tradition, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg), 1994.

PERIODICALS

  • Agenda, summer, 1975, summer/autumn, 1981, summer, 1995, p. 153.
  • American Book Review, September/October, 1982.
  • British Book News, November, 1985, January, 1986.
  • Critical Quarterly, winter, 1971, summer, 1973, winter, 1982.
  • Delta, Number 59, 1979.
  • Encounter, December, 1970, March, 1975.
  • Essays in Criticism, July, 1967.
  • Hollins Critic, April, 1978.
  • Hudson Review, autumn, 1966, summer, 1973, spring, 1975, summer, 1975, winter, 1981-82, summer, 1984, winter, 1994, p. 731.
  • Listener, July 13, 1978.
  • London Review of Books, June 17, 1982, July 6, 1995, p. 18.
  • Midwest Quarterly, summer, 1974.
  • Modern Painters, spring, 1989, autumn, 1989.
  • Nation, March 16, 1974.
  • New Leader, June 1, 1981.
  • New Statesman, December 5, 1969.
  • New York Times Book Review, April 29, 1973, April 6, 1975, December 31, 1978, March 1, 1981.
  • Observer, June 17, 1984.
  • Parnassus: Poetry in Review, spring/summer, 1974.
  • Poetry, November, 1967, May, 1971, November, 1980.
  • Poetry Review, January, 1979, April, 1982.
  • Review, June/July, 1962.
  • Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Volume 36, number 2, 1982.
  • Saturday Review, February 11, 1967, August 8, 1970.
  • Stand, Volume 16, number 3, 1975.
  • Times Literary Supplement, January 29, 1970, October 20, 1972, November 8, 1974, December 1, 1978, July 17, 1981, September 4, 1981, February 5, 1982, October 14, 1983, April 27, 1984, March 21, 1986, January 15, 1988.
  • World Literature Today, autumn, 1995, p. 802.

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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION England

LIFE SPAN 1927–

Biography

Poet, artist, and translator Charles Tomlinson was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1927. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, he read English at Queen’s College Cambridge, studying with poet Donald Davie who was an early influence and later became a close friend. Tomlinson taught elementary school before joining the University of Bristol, where he taught for 36 years. His collections of poetry include Relations and . . .

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