Vanished Poet Rosemary Tonks

Rosemary Tonks, like the name Blinky Palermo, is a name I wish I had, or at least had invented. Tonks isn’t the familiar name it once was, when the bearer was a promising writer in London in the 1960s. Now her name echoes like the ghost she has become of her own life. (It’s a rather ungainly thud of an echo, but still.)

Tonks wrote two slim volumes of verse that you’d be hard pressed to find copies of. They are out of print and will not be republished. The author has forbidden her publisher to reprint it. Her writing reminds me of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s in its tone and themes, but with a much updated form and sensibility.

Tonks now lives (the rumours go) in a shack in a garden in the countryside, where she accepts no visitors and she does not write. It’s been so for 30+ years. There are rumours that she joined a Christian cult, which you might imagine from some of her writing was a major life change. This spirituality forbids her to write, and is given as the reason why she will not allow her work to be reprinted. Her struggle reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkin’s struggle between his work as a priest and his passion for writing. I worship art more than anything, and I only wish we had more from both authors. Born in 1932, she’s seems on course to die as much of a mystery as she is now.

But I salvaged a poem for you here, from The Iliad of Broken Verses. It’s something I quite enjoyed reading, and if you like, I can send you more.

Actually, I decided to include a second that I also liked very much.


I have lived it , and lived it,
My nervous, luxury civilization,
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 coaser: 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 specially 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 kep 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 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.

Story Of A Hotel Room

Thinking we were safe-insanity!
We went in to make love. All the same
Idiots to trust the little hotel bedroom.
Then in the gloom…
…And who does not know that pair of shutters
With all the awkward hook on them
All screeching whispers? Very well then, in the gloom
We set about acquiring one another
Urgently! But on a temporary basis
Only as guests-just guests of one another’s senses.

But idiots to feel so safe you hold back nothing
Because the bed of cold, electric linen
Happens to be illicit…
To make love as well as that is ruinous.
Londoner, Parisian, someone should have warned us
That without permanent intentions
You have absolutely no protection
-If the act is clean, authentic, sumptuous,
The concurring deep love of the heart
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.

5 thoughts on “Vanished Poet Rosemary Tonks

  1. Nice (re)discovery! She paints a wonderful word picture; at once surreal and but confident in her observation of life. I feel the flavor of her persona in the tableau, the excitement of the times and the struggle to understand ones place. It’s hard for me to fathom the donning of a straightjacket as a religious requirement.

  2. The last two paragraphs of “…Hotel Room” I have read before in a novel, I don’t remember it, but I remembered when the author quoted that poem. Thanks for reminding me of this again.

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