Charles Tomlinson Tomlinson, (Alfred) Charles (Vol. 6)

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Tomlinson, (Alfred) Charles (Vol. 6)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Tomlinson, (Alfred) Charles 1927–

Tomlinson, a distinguished English poet, is said to be influenced by Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and especially by Wallace Stevens. Calvin Bedient considers his most salient attribute originality, his chief theme "the fineness of relationships," noting that to read Tomlinson "is continually to sound; to meet with what lies outside the self in a simultaneous grace of vision and love." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[There] is a scruple in Tomlinson which is quite alien to Betjeman and Porter …, and which clarifies the whole question of the choices available to British poets in this century. Against the assertion that poetry is impossible, that poetry does not matter, one can easily assert that poetry is a matter of swaggering enough (there are all kinds of swagger), of defending the old against the new, the private life against history. But only very thin poetry comes of this—additional proof that poetry is hardly possible, that only "poetry" is. The most interesting modern poets, explicitly or implicitly, have said something else: that the possibility or impossibility of poetry will depend on the quality of the attention we bring to the world we wish to render in language. Not the size or the scope of the attention, and not the intrinsic properties of the themes or objects it seizes on, but the quality of the attention itself: the degree of care. This, it seems to me, is the message of Yeats as much as of Eliot, of Hardy as much as of Pound; and it has been deciphered as well by Philip Larkin as by Ted Hughes. The morality and the humanity of the best of modern British poetry is a respect for the world out there, beyond the ghosts and nightmares of our own minds, and this respect is nowhere better represented than in the work of Charles Tomlinson. Fact has its proper plenitude, Tomlinson [has said]…. And not only facts are to be respected, but also more elusive realities…. "The Impalpabilities," like many of Tomlinson's poems, seems to me to answer in practice the nagging question that lurks behind so much poetry written since Symbolism struck away the safe old objective world: how to link the mind to the external universe except through metaphor, how to make metaphors without exploiting and betraying that universe, without robbing all landscapes of their own reality? In Tomlinson the sea, music, houses, countrysides, evening light, the arms of a human body, and many things besides, are all borrowed but not used: what they evoke is something that they too are. (pp. 48-9)

Michael Wood, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Parnassus: Poetry in Review), Spring/Summer, 1974.

Charles Tomlinson is not self-regarding. His worst side is shown in his occasional attempts to be chummy, to make us warm to him; he takes on easy targets—the rich, upper-class accents, a fictional critic of Beethoven. His best side, amply illustrated in The Way In, lies in his ability to mix observation and conceit. The English landscape, Midland towns, winter scenes—he has indeed a rather wintry talent. The rhythms of his verse seem purposely flat, the lines oddly arranged, the images bleak. Some of his shorter poems … seem like stray stanzas from a longer work…. One expects something to happen, something to start up, but nothing does…. And in the longer works, too, one often feels left in the lurch. There is an element missing here, though what exactly it is I do not know: a shade more passion, a touch of ambition, an element of risk. Perhaps it boils down to a question of scope. Here is a striking beginning of a poem:

        Light catches the sudden metal of the streams:
        Their granite captive is stirring in its chains.

Yes, you say, that's good—go on. But that's all there is. That is in fact the whole poem. (p. 833)

James Fenton, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), December 6, 1974.

Tomlinson's language …...

(The entire section is 2,324 words.)