Form and Vision in Charles Tomlinson’s ‘The Door in the Wall’


Among Charles Tomlinson’s many American inspirations and collaborators, Stevens, Moore and Williams were essential in fostering his interest in form and his attitude toward the themes which were to be discernible until his final publications. Underlying this were the formative conversations with Donald Davie, and as the poet distilled the influences of Cambridge and America, a formalism appeared which seemed to accommodate Tomlinson in his other guise as graphic artist. Coming late in his output, The Door on the Wall has often been overlooked as a demonstration of the poet’s diverse energies, but it springs from the same well as his early work, and although not as painterly as some of the volumes from the 60s and 70s, reveals that remarkable deftness with the materials of the visual composer: the “same corners, volumetrics, [and] shadows,” as Ashbery once put it. Lea (1994) has suggested that Tomlinson’s later poetry suffers from the defect that it occasionally lacks an elaborative facility associated with thematic development which he suggests produces “successful” verse by way of a “generalizing rhetoric”. However, in substantiating this claim, he is perhaps disregarding the compositional strategies and methodology associated with Tomlinson’s insistence on a kind of observation-as-form: a preference for a detachment which is arguably an inheritance from Imagism, and which flows from the idiosyncrasies of Tomlinson’s central thematic preoccupations.

Author Information
Neil Conway, University of the Highlands and Islands, United Kingdom

Paper Information
Conference: IICAH2024
Stream: Literature/Literary Studies

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon