Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 290

Despite the obvious debt of modern English poetry to the Missouri-born T.S. Eliot, very few contemporary British poets have made much of American poetry. Donald Davie, Thom Gunn, and Charles Tomlinson are exceptions, however, and in Some Americans, Tomlinson makes clear the extent of his interest in modern American poets and his indebtedness to them. The memorable clarity of the essays in this book has much in common with the rigorous attention to detail and painterly description that characterize Tomlinson’s poetry.

While Davie and Gunn lived and worked in the United States for extended periods, Tomlinson’s stay, described in these essays, was far briefer. He returned to England to live and work, after the time described in the book. There, as before, his poetry continued to be met with some misunderstanding or lack of sympathy among his compatriots. Some Americans can be seen, at least in part, not only as a historical record of his American influences but also as a patient explanation and a potent defense of his work.

The language of the prose bears the hallmark of the poetry in its artful simplicity of diction, its lucid exactness of representation, and its honest personal statement. The record of events is rendered so clearly that there is little room for further excavation by critics and scholars: Apart from reviews when it first appeared, this work has been left to stand on its own as the straightforward autobiographical account that it is. Some Americans is an important historical and literary document, because Charles Tomlinson is a significant and unusual poet and because, beyond elucidating the sources and stimuli for some of his best early poems, he provides insight into the lives and work of important modernist figures.

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