Friday, 21 January 2011

Tom Raworth speaks to Andy Spragg

Tom Raworth's involvement with poetry extends far beyond the business of just writing poems. He's written over forty books of poetry and prose since 1966, and published individuals such as Ed Dorn, LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Olson through the magazine Outburst in the early 60's.

Raworth's work should be read by anyone with an interest in contemporary poetry; it is playful and inventive in a way that attests to his commitment to – in his own words – 'keep it fun, not drudgery'. For an appropriate overview of his work I'd recommend the two books out by Carcanet, Collected Poems and Windmills in Flames.

{This interview was conducted by e-mail, thanks goes to Tom Raworth for his time}

Did you engage much with poetry when growing up?

I wrote a poem, or rather rhyme, when I was four and a half (old story). There were always books around. Battered furniture, bare linoleum, a copper to boil clothes in the kitchen, but bookshelves floor to ceiling. Before my father went off to the war he made me a handwritten and bound book of poems.... things like Tennyson's 'The Revenge', Southey's 'How Does the Water Come Down at Lodore'. I used to look at that. But I can't remember any particular interest during junior and then grammar school. Pope's 'The Rape of the Lock' for GCE... nothing much sticks. When I was around 16 and dropping out of school I ran across (via a boy named Higgins who was "literary") some Dylan Thomas that I liked. By then, mid-1950s, I was much more interested in clothes and modern jazz. The "San Francisco Scene" issue (1957?) of Evergreen Review, bought in Charing Cross Road for the jazz article, led me into contemporary (then) American poetry and its various sub-divisions collected in the Allen anthology (1960). A lot of that work seemed to have some connection to my life, whereas the "poetry" I then scanned from here was as alien as the students with long scarves flailing about "dancing" in Cy Laurie's Jazz club were to my friends and me, cool in our Italian suits and Fred Perrys, at 3am in The Flamingo. Around that time I also got interested in Surrealism and Dada..... Jarry and Schwitters. Rimbaud and Apollinaire too.