On Rosemary Tonks

Patrick McGuinness

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.

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