Monday, May 19, 2014

Rosemary Tonks, 1928-2014: the case of the poet who disappeared

"The Sofas, Fogs and Cinemas"
(Rosemary Tonks)

I have lived it, and lived it,
My nervous, luxury civilisation,
My sugar-loving nerves have battered me to pieces.

…Their idea of literature is hopeless.
Make them drink their own poetry!
Let them eat their gross novel, full of mud.
It’s quiet; just the fresh, chilly weather…and he
Gets up from his dead bedroom, and comes in here
And digs himself into the sofa.
He stays there up to two hours in the hole − and talks
− Straight into the large subjects, he faces up to everything
It’s…damnably depressing.
(That great lavatory coat…the cigarillo burning
In the little dish…And when he calls out: ‘Ha!’
Madness − you no longer possess your own furniture.)

On my bad days (and I’m being broken
At this very moment) I speak of my ambitions…and he
Becomes intensely gloomy, with the look of something jugged,
Morose, sour, mouldering away, with lockjaw…

I grow coarser; and more modern (I, who am driven mad
By my ideas; who go nowhere;
Who dare not leave my frontdoor, lest an idea…)
All right. I admit everything, everything!

Oh yes, the opera (Ah, but the cinema)
He particularly enjoys it, enjoys it horribly, when someone’s ill
At the last minute; and they fly in
A new, gigantic, Dutch soprano.  He wants to help her
With her arias.            Old goat!  Blasphemer!
He wants to help her with her arias!

No, I…go to the cinema,
I particularly like it when the fog is thick, the street
Is like a hole in an old coat, and the light is brown as laudanum,
…the fogs! the fogs!  The cinemas
Where the criminal shadow-literature flickers over our faces,
The screen is spread out like a thundercloud − that bangs
And splashes you with acid…or lies derelict, with lighted waters in it,
And in the silence, drips and crackles − taciturn, luxurious.
…The drugged and battered Philistines
Are all around you in the auditorium…

And he…is somewhere else, in his dead bedroom clothes,
He wants to make me think his thoughts
And they will be enormous, dull − (just the sort
To keep away from).
…when I see that  cigarillo, when I see it…smoking
And he wants to face the international situation…
Lunatic rages! Blackness! Suffocation!

− All this sitting about in cafés to calm down
Simply wears me out. And their idea of literature!
The idiotic cut of the stanzas; the novels, full up, gross.

I have lived it, and I know too much.
My café-nerves are breaking me
With black, exhausting information.

Some quotes from The Guardian’s obituary for Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014): 

The poet Rosemary Tonks, who has died aged 85, famously “disappeared” in the 1970s. The author of two poetry collections and six published novels, she turned her back on the literary world after a series of personal tragedies and medical crises which made her question the value of literature and embark on a restless, self-torturing spiritual quest. 
...  Living for the next four decades as the reclusive Mrs Lightband in an anonymous-looking old house tucked away behind Bournemouth seafront, she cut herself off from her former life, refusing to see relatives, old friends, or publishers like me who hoped she might change her mind and allow her poetry to be reissued. As far as the literary world was concerned, she “evaporated into air like the Cheshire cat”, as Brian Patten put it in a BBC Lost Voices half-hour feature, The Poet Who Vanished, broadcast on Radio 4 in 2009. ... 
Moving into the Bournemouth house in 1980, she completed the obliteration of the person she had been, consigning an unpublished novel to the garden incinerator…

One writer commented in 2009 on Tonks's unusual creative history that "[s]he stopped publishing poetry in the early seventies, apparently converting to Christianity, and in the late seventies she vanished entirely. Apparently she lives in some kind of garden shed or something and won’t communicate with anyone at all. Though how melodramatic this account is, who can say. I’ve even seen one account that says she packed it all in after seeing the ghost of Baudelaire." 

Here are more links to information:

one is the BBC "Lost Voices" presentationtwo is an appreciation at The Dabbler, three is a remembrance at Culture Critic, and four is a 2011 blog entry, "Waiting for a left-wing bureaucrat to make a heart-beat," at Superintendent Idle Tiger. [Photo: Rosemary Tonks in the 1960s, by Jane Bown.]

No comments: