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October 2004  |  Jacket 26  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |

          Tom Raworth feature

      Keith Tuma: ‘till mute attention
      Struck my listning Ear’

Memory of standing in line at G & W Carryout in Oxford, Ohio: Tom needs razors. Then to the post-office to express mail Peter Green’s new translation of Apollonius’s The Argonautika to Ed Dorn, who had just given it to Tom in Denver: Ed, pushing against his illness, needs it back to move ahead with work. Here at the house asked by Diane if any of the knick-knacks caught his eye: the two glass bottles, he says, simple reds and greens, late winter sun on them, a buck each at Odd Lots. The lamp with five globes curving close to the ceiling: ‘I’ve always found it difficult to get enough reading light overhead.’ A carved streetrat from Bali, its defiant and comic pose. Later, listening to a CD of poetry and music: ‘The music wins every time.’ No need much for words, whistling maybe, or whistling along, a smile of recognition is four or five volumes. Posture as given in the first poem of Tottering State: ‘Waiting.’ In Cambridge a plate of cold cuts, olives, cheese, Val animated, skewering the pretensions of many. Generosity to youth in too many locations to detail, cigarettes under New Hampshire greenery staving off overkill readings at Assembling Alternatives. Uncomfortable, shy to be asked to explain collages at a party in Chicago: Tom turns to a few of us listening and says ‘John Cage lives!’ Navigating complex turns to Bill Fuller’s house in Winnetka after drinks on the north side that same night: just as soon as I’m sure this can’t be right we’re there. A glass of water after reading through Writing at the University of Chicago, back for another twenty-five minutes from Meadow. More formal get-up on Tom new to me: makes me feel better about having spent two hours talking about his work to Bob von Hallberg’s seminar, saying things like ‘If this were another century Tom would be our finest epigrammatist and miniaturist. But since it’s after that time the work is necessarily more oblique, spun in deft turning, that kind of observation, detail, and comment every bit as cut and cutting but in pieces and rearranged.’ I left out the wonder of and in it, the anger too. What’s ever said about the poetry that’s up to the poetry if the poetry is up to anything at all? We must try. Another moment in Cambridge: ‘Nobody ever notices my rhyming.’

Time’s almost up: scratch again. What to offer Tom Raworth to match the surprise of his poems? What to do to thank him for community delicately threaded by his necessary — fated more than fêted — travels? Time to fetch the Apollonius book from the library maybe. No way Tom got past Book I on the jet. A few lines from Book III then: ‘Medeia could not remove her thoughts to other matters / whatever games she might play: not a one that she embarked on / caught her attention for long. She quickly found them boring, / kept helplessly chopping and changing...’ I don’t know anything about Medeia’s story, haven’t read the book. That’s what caught my eye flipping through. It occurs to me that Tom might have a few lessons for Medeia in the possibilities of boredom and distraction as modes of attention. Or maybe not. Argonaut and Argot-naught both.

Jacket 26 — October 2004  Contents page
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