Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In a one-paragraph introduction to this brief volume, British poet Charles Tomlinson attributes its origin to the American literary critic Hugh Kenner, “who suggested the making of this book” out of essays that Tomlinson wrote between 1976 and 1979. Most of the essays the poet had already published in Contemporary Literature, Paideuma, and The Hudson Review. Gathered loosely around the theme of American influence on his work, the essays make a “Quantum Book” in the series of that name—the physicists’ term for a unit of emitted energy—published by the University of California Press at Berkeley, as a “short study distinctive for the author’s ability to offer a richness of detail and insight within about one hundred pages of print.”

Some Americans consists of four essays of varying length, each one recounting how Tomlinson came to meet one or more American luminaries—poets or painters—and giving his retrospective impressions in acute detail. When a first meeting is preceded by an exchange of letters, these are described and frequently quoted. When acquaintances thus initiated flower into friendship, the progress of the friendship is memorably recounted. The book is peppered with references to contemporary writers and their books: Twelve columns of names in the index attest the sheer number of Americans with whom the young Tomlinson made contact in the course of his pilgrimage through the United States and through his dedicated and devoted reading.

The first and longest chapter (43 of the book’s 134 pages), written in 1976 and 1977, chronicles Tomlinson’s discovery of American poetry—despite its near invisibility in the England of his youth—and his first attempts to write poetry in an English idiom that was not distinctly British. He discusses the poets whose work he was reading, alludes frequently and happily to the positive reception publicly and...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Beaver, Harold. “Crossing Rebel Lines,” in Parnassus: Poetry in Review. X (Spring/Summer, 1982), pp. 117-124.

Hall, Donald. “Poet’s Progress,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI (March 1, 1981), pp. 12, 16-17.

Hennessy, Michael. “Discovering America,” in Contemporary Literature. XXIII (Spring, 1982), pp. 254-258.

Pettingell, Phoebe. “Outer and Inner Landscapes,” in The New Leader. LXIV (June 1, 1981), pp. 14-15.

Wilmer, Clive. “Masters in Modernism,” in The Times Literary Supplement. February 5, 1982, p. 141.