In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

On Rosemary TonksPatrick McGuinness

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.

In​  The Waste Land, a ‘young man carbuncular’ makes a play for ‘the typist home at teatime’:

Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.

Anyone who wants the typist’s side of this brief, bleak encounter might find a version of it in Rosemary Tonks’s poems, with their undertow of sexual menace and carnal scavenging. ‘Love Territory’, the opening poem of Bedouin of the London Evening, her new Collected (Bloodaxe, £12), starts:

He’s timid with women, and the dusk is excruciating
The bronze-brown autumn dusk!
And the half-lit territories of street and bed and heart
Are savage and full of risk.

On bronze nights
When the territory is half-lit by casual glances
He sweats, each step is hideous!
Once he knows his strength of course he will be ruthless.

It’s Eliot’s ‘violet hour’, but 1950s streetlamps make it a grimy off-gold. Tonks prowls through bohemian London like a feral Laforgue, the poet she most resembles in her mix of rawness and over-cultivation.

Though she died last year at the age of 85, Rosemary Tonks had vanished long before. The author of two collections of poems – Notes on Cafés and Bedrooms (1963) and Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967) – and six novels, she stopped writing in the early 1980s, after a conversion to fundamentalist Christianity which itself came on the back of a series of medical disasters, personal misfortunes and punishing forays into spiritualism. Her first book was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and among those who admired her work were Cyril Connolly and Al Alvarez. Edward Lucie-Smith included her in British Poetry since 1945 (1970) and Larkin put her in his Oxford Book of 20th-Century English Verse (1973). The living afterlife of her next forty years uncannily resembles that of Lynette Roberts, who published two completely original books with Eliot at Faber, lived through the bohemian London of the 1930s and 1940s, became a Jehovah’s Witness, and died in a West Wales nursing home in 1995. Like Roberts, people only discovered that Tonks had been alive all this time when they read that she had died. As Ed Dorn put it: ‘You don’t disappear. You reappear, dead.’

Tonks burned her last manuscript, a novel she considered to be her best work, in 1981, and destroyed a collection of precious Oriental figures left to her by an aunt. ‘What are books? They are minds, Satan’s minds,’ she wrote in a notebook in 1999. As for the figures, they were ‘graven images’. After incinerating them in her garden, she set about smashing them with a hammer until they were ‘dog biscuit size’ (the dog biscuit as a unit of measurement has a certain fastidious, crazed precision). After that her only reading was the Bible: Tyndale’s for preference, or the King James, since all subsequent versions were travesties of the Word. Tonks refused to republish her poetry and fiction, and became, like Roberts, a rumoured presence, a missing link. Her reappearance in this important and well-documented book, which includes two penetrating reviews, a short story and an interview, is the best sort of rediscovery: one that disrupts our sense of poetic continuity even as it restores it. Valuable too are the back-cover blurbs and the wording of the Poetry Book Society commendation for her first book, which reveal the baffled admiration, which may or may not be the same as praise, that her poetry provoked in a climate we think of as polarised between the sensible formalism of the Movement and Alvarez’s New Poetry, with its call to go beyond ‘the gentility principle’.

Tonks was born in Kent in 1928. Her father, an engineer, died of blackwater fever in Africa before she was born. Mother and daughter moved house 14 times during the war ‘to avoid bombs and people’, and Tonks was sent from an early age to boarding school in Bournemouth. Her mother turned to religion, and to healers and mediums, something Tonks alludes to in ‘Running Away’. The title is sharply ironic when we recall that it was her mother’s death, in what Neil Astley calls a ‘freak accident’ in 1968, that precipitated Tonks’s own turn towards spiritualism. The poem echoes, to different and clearly parodic effect, the Dylan Thomas of ‘Fern Hill’: ‘In the green rags of the Bible I tore up/The straight silk of childhood on my head.’ It is, for Tonks, unusually dense and incrusted with the Dylanesque verbal impasto of the 1940s poets, the ‘new romantics’ she would have read in her teens and twenties. She describes herself, in an extraordinary sequence of images, as ‘forfeit to the crepe hoods/Of my mother’s eyes; the iron door of her oven/And her church’. ‘Running Away’ draws on themes and images that haunt her poems: the imagined East through which she poetically processes, the bohemian bedouinhood of London life, and a hungry escapism that is as much sexual (the ‘soul turn[ing] blandly/On a sirloin mattress to smile at the next meal’) as spiritual.

There’s a lot of meat in this book, and there are many mattresses. The mattresses are dirty and the meat is turning. Everything is tainted, marbled with decay, but this is precisely what gives it taste. Tonks claimed Baudelaire and Rimbaud as her inspirations. While this is true in obvious ways – the allure of city life, the exoticisation of its underside (what she calls, in a line that evokes Patrick Hamilton, ‘the flavour beneath the flagstones’ of London), the push-pull of fascination and disgust – what emerges most strongly from reading her is that she shares their fascination with decay; or, more exactly, the cusp of decay. It’s what the French call le faisandé, ‘gameyness’: when the meat is about to turn, when it is most richly textured and darkly flavoursome. Gameyness is a rich metaphor: for a literary style and a way of feeling, but also for a decadent civilisation, reaching its peak just as – and just because – ripeness segues into rot. Baudelaire’s preference is for the in-between, and for the time of day, neither daylight nor darkness, known in French as ‘entre chien et loup’: between dog and wolf. The phrase turns up in Tonks, where she archly writes in ‘April and the Ideas-Merchant’ that ‘I was in the chien-loup/Of the Latin Quarter of my brain.’ She relishes the cliché of the French poète maudit, even as she mocks its pretentiousness, and her own for invoking it. In ‘Black Kief and the Intellectual’, the irony is self-lacerating: ‘Ah, miserable at last! Felicity.’ Even her youth is decaying: ‘I have been young too long, and in a dressing-gown/My private modern life has gone to waste’ (‘Bedouin of the London Evening’). Her poetry is ecstatic and unhappy, feverish, crepuscular, idealistic and jaded, choking on sophistication but driven by instinct.

‘I was a guest at my own youth,’ she writes in ‘Running Away’. However unmistakeable her voice, she seems to pass through her own experience like a transient through the bedsits and hotel rooms of her poems. ‘The Desert Wind Elite’ begins: ‘I am outside life, and pour the sand/For my own desert, recklessly.’ Her alienation is constantly shocked by moments of immersion in a life that is both hers and not hers. In ‘Addiction to an Old Mattress’, she writes:

No, this is not my life, thank God …
… worn out like this, and crippled by brain-fag;
Obsessed first by one person, and then
(Almost at once) most horribly besotted by another;

Like Laforgue’s, Tonks’s poetic persona is as merciless as it is vulnerable. She sees through the things she cannot get beyond, describing the addict’s mix of self-knowledge and compulsion, the realisation that the real addiction is to addiction itself, to its pain and endlessly renewed disappointments, as well as its vitality. ‘My sofa wrote her creaking, narcoleptic’s Iliad. My bathroom drank the Styx,’ she writes in ‘Song of the October Wind’: hers is a world of painkillers, sleeping tablets, alcohol, hashish and coffee. There is also some analgesic product placement, for Veganin and the Laforguian ‘Novocain of my horizon’. ‘Addiction to an Old Mattress’ takes us on a journey of disgust, before returning to its starting-point:

Meanwhile … I live on … powerful, disobedient,
Inside their draughty haberdasher’s climate,
With these people … who are going to obsess me,
Potatoes, dentists, people I hardly know, it’s unforgivable
For this is not my life
But theirs, that I am living.
And I wolf, bolt, gulp it down, day after day.

Wolfing, bolting, gulping – her poems are full of metaphors of consuming and being consumed. She lives on her ‘Sugar-nerves’, and ‘gorge[s] to death/On ideologies’. In ‘Students in Bertorelli’s’ ‘Each man stuffs himself with ideas’ and ‘eats his pork newspaper’. Meanwhile, the ‘bins and dormitories of cities’ are where ‘one goes to gormandise upon escape’ (‘Escape!’). Most disturbing is ‘Badly-chosen Lover’ (her titles are ingenious), where the affair is imagined as carnivorous and predatory. ‘Criminal, you took a great piece of my life,’ it begins:

Your heart, greedy and tepid, brothel-meat,
Gulped it, like a flunkey with erotica.
And very softly, Criminal, I damn you for it.

In ‘The Drinkers of Coffee’ the speaker tracks the rituals of seduction: ‘You know the deadly dull excitement; the champagne sleet/Of living; you know all the kitchen details of my ego’s thinking.’ The word ‘know’ here conveys both tiredness and anticipation: the escape from a predictable marriage is a predictable affair, and vice versa, endlessly. Her inner life is perpetually short-circuiting. While bohemia is dissected, she is scornful of the world of office hours and overdone Sunday roasts. The husband’s pyjamas are ‘dead bedroom-clothes’, the career man is a Larkinesque ‘toad-winner’.

Like the French writers she admired, Tonks writes a poetry of failed departures. ‘Farewell to Kurdistan’ has as its refrain, ‘Well, I’m leaving; nothing can hold me,’ and describes the trains ‘com[ing] in, boiling, caked!/The station half tames them.’ ‘I’m already sticking out my elbows for a piece of territory,/I occupy my place as though I can’t get enough of it,’ she writes: ‘I shall go to the centre of Europe.’ But the train stays in the station and so does she: ‘I shall live off your loaf of shadows, London;/I admit it, at the last.’

In ‘Epoch of the Hotel Corridor’ she apostrophises her period with a revealing metaphor: ‘I know that to get through to you, my epoch,/I must take a diamond and scratch/On your junkie’s green glass skin.’ That sense of speaking to a time that has heard and seen it all before, that is double-glazed, inured, impermeable and beyond amazement, makes her poetry at once desperate and blasé (yet another of her choice words). She is like her epoch, and part of it; to use her own food imagery: hungry and sated, starved and stuffed.

When he abandoned literature, Rimbaud went to Abyssinia. Tonks chose Bournemouth, where, after travelling to Jerusalem to be baptised in 1981 (her ‘second birth’ she called it), she lived under her married name, Rosemary Lightband, until her death. The poet died into the proselytiser: when she returned to London, it was as a missionary and not a bedouin, giving out bibles at Speakers’ Corner. There is something powerful and sad about imagining her in Hyde Park – Rosemary Lightband visiting the city of Rosemary Tonks – but it fits with the savage, damaged and brilliant thwartedness of her poetry. As Rimbaud wrote in A Season in Hell, ‘On ne part pas.’ Rosemary Tonks shows how far a poet can go without ever leaving.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.