Tom Raworth, according to Marjorie Perloff, is the 'oldest living open-heart surgery survivor, treated in the UK in the first round of heart operations conducted there in the 1950s'. Highlight the 'survivor' bit. The last poet left standing in the saloon. (Think Gregory Peck in Henry King's The Gunfighter. Grave moustache succumbing to gravity.) Many myths surround the man, among enthusiasts, cultists and close readers, and this has always been one of them: Raworth is unwell but never incapacitated. The moustache may be a little greyer than the version flourished in early snapshots - the cover of A Serial Biography, the Barry Flanagan etching from Act - but this is still the same mouth, the same disguise. The same bite. The lights are on and there is somebody at home. The speed of eye/ear/mind remains, absolutely, that of a particle accelerator. Heart is everything: the contrary of cash. 'money talks,' Raworth asserts. 'i just don't understand.' He often writes - and at public readings always performs - in lower case. The delivery is so swift you don't notice the tremble in the air until later, when the grenade goes off. Statements coming at you, one after another, without qualification or hierarchy. Parataxis, the late-explainers call it. No flimflam. Don't wink at the camera until the camera winks back.
LRB 19 August 2004 | PDF Download