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In Memoriam: Reading One of Tom Raworth’s Last Poems

By Harriet Staff


Martin Corless-Smith remembers Tom Raworth at Tarpaulin Sky. He also looks at Raworth’s “observing ‘i'” in what might be his last poem, “Previs.” Corless-Smith had permission to bring it out as a chapbook, he says, and points out that Raworth also published it on his blog. It is dedicated to Sean Bonney. He reads the poem closely:

Typical of Raworth’s work, the first line signals a game that we sense will unfold along with the poem. The ordinary discourse of I/you is subverted, diverted, inverted by the last word “me.” We expect either a proper noun or a pronoun indicating otherness. Here the discourse is with the self, which either means it is involuted, or that the self is made of disparate parts. The suggestion is perhaps glib, but more obviously self-conscious about identity, and the inwardness of poetic discourse. It’s self-deprecating at the same time as it is deftly suggestive of the opacity of language, and the “over-thereness” of being. We can see it as a flippant twist, or as loaded with meaning. That’s part of the issue with an “i” speaking to a “you.” The “me” of the reader really has the task of registering tone and intention from the signaled clues. Here they are not so much ambiguous as simultaneously supportive of exclusive meanings. That’s Raworth. Take either version as the “right” answer and you miss the point. We tend to imagine that poems want to impart a serious truth, but often they are really about “being” read, and language is alive as long as we keep reading it to find out what is said. We hardly listen to ordinary discourse, because we don’t feel we need to. But here we perk up. We pay attention.

Find all of “The Observing ‘i’ in Raworth’s poetry and all that jazz” at Tarpaulin Sky.

Portrait of Tom Raworth by Aldo Agnelli. Used with permission.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.