(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

It is fitting that Some Americans should end with the work of Ezra Pound, as it begins with Tomlinson’s precocious interest in Pound, his purchase of a book of Pound’s poetry while still in grammar school, and his amazement that American poetry was disregarded in his university assignments. As he says at the outset, “A boy from the provinces, going up to read English at Cambridge in 1945, as I did, will have learned little of American poetry from his university teachers. None of them seemed to mention it.” That opening establishes several of Tomlinson’s themes: his youth and his outsider status (the “boy from the provinces” at Cambridge), his enthusiasm for American verse and his hunger for guidance in his reading of it, and his self-possession, even pride, because he knows more than his peers and supposed superiors (the Cambridge professors’ failure to “mention” contemporary American poetry rather strongly implies their ignorance of the matter).

These themes, suggested at the outset of this slim volume, are woven throughout the whole, where they serve the interests of the larger theme: Tomlinson’s great regard for, and conscious debt to, American poetry. The book fits comfortably into the category of study that elucidates what William Wordsworth famously called the growth of a poet’s mind, and it is valuable precisely because it provides insight into the ways in which Tomlinson adapted what he saw as the best features of American writing (and painting) to his own artistic purposes. In so doing, it also explains why he has seemed to his fellow poets in Great Britain to be rather outside their tradition: It is highly unusual for British poets to adjust their voice to American tonalities, but that is precisely what Tomlinson has done.

From his first shocked delight at the freedom and vigor of Ezra Pound’s lines, what impressed Tomlinson the most was the verbal clarity, simplicity, and immediacy with which American poetry conveyed reality, what he calls “a regard for [the] minute particulars of language.” He recalls his delight in the opening chapter, which also describes the depth and breadth of his exposure to such writers as Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Yvor Winters, and William Carlos Williams. From each he learned another refined technique; Tomlinson was drawn to resonant simplicity of statement, to arresting precision of language. He is careful to point out in detail exactly where American influence can be found in a particular poem of his own, where the evidence of his reading and his personal contacts with American writers can be seen at work in his own lines, both as originally conceived and as finally revised.

Once past the initial discussion of his indebtedness to the work of American poets, Tomlinson tells a series of pointed personal anecdotes about his contacts with living American legends. He seems never to have been content merely to read and to appreciate the...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)