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Review of Charles Tomlinson's Cracks In the Universe - David Morley, Poetry Review15 August 2006
The Science of PossibilityPrevious review of 'Cracks In the Universe'... Next review of 'Cracks In the Universe'... To the 'Cracks In the Universe' page...
A poem's design, or the design of a single poetic line, should suggest possibility, not cast-iron certainty; even though its structure may be as super-involuted as the genetic design of a rose, or an eye. Let a poem carry the argument. This is the entirety of Charles Tomlinson's 'A Rose from Fronteira':
Head of a rose:
above the vase
a gaze widening -
hardly a face, and yet
the warmth has brought it forth
out of itself,
with all its folds, flakes, layers
gathered towards the world
beyond the window,
as bright as features,
as directed as a look:
of the book
The cellular life of a poem is its language, and Tomlinson's language is numinous with life. Alert, evocative, precise language of this standard is not too far from the best observational nature writing, or writing that arises from scientific enquiry. Obviously, a botanist would not reach for the image of the rose as a 'reader of the book of light' while writing a paper; but might, were they tilting their findings into creative non-fiction.
'Why do we not celebrate him more than we do?'
Charles Tomlinson is light-years ahead of so many other English poets whose reputations are more visible if less sturdy. Why do we not celebrate him more than we do? It is an old question; and it will not go away. Is he too good for us? Cracks in the Universe is a volume brimming with excellences; it extends a body of poetry which has few equals in achievement, perceptual alertness and audacity. I've little doubt that when we look back on poetry from England in fifty years Charles Tomlinson, with Geoffrey Hill and Ted Hughes, will be seen as the figures to reckon with, and to re-read. It is abjectly Little-English to ignore him while he lives - and writes so well - among us. If you are unfamiliar with his work, this book is yet another marvellous place to begin.
Good poetic design engenders possibility. The oeuvre of a poet suggests similar strains of possibility. However we tend to read in picks and patches, rather than taking a complete view. It is possible to take that completed view with Peter Redgrove now he has passed on: a scientist and a poet of such range and strangeness that his work arouses as much confusion and talent-blindness among critics as it does curiosity and devotion among readers. I personally feel that, as with Charles Tomlinson, Peter Redgrove is foolishly under-rated but we are beginning to catch up with him at last and, in both cases, that this is our gain.
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