The “disappearance” of the poet Rosemary Tonks in the 1970s was one of the literary world’s most tantalising mysteries – the subject of a BBC feature in 2009 called The Poet Who Vanished.
After publishing two extraordinary poetry collections – and six satirical novels – she turned her back on the literary world after a series of personal tragedies and medical crises which made her question the value of literature and embark on a restless, self-torturing spiritual quest. This involved totally renouncing poetry, and suppressing her own books.
Interviewed earlier in 1967, she spoke of her direct literary forebears as Baudelaire and Rimbaud: ‘They were both poets of the modern metropolis as we know it and no one has bothered to learn what there is to be learned from them… The main duty of the poet is to excite – to send the senses reeling.’
Her poetry – published in Notes on Cafés and Bedrooms (1963) and Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967) – is exuberantly sensuous, a hymn to sixties hedonism set amid the bohemian nighttime world of a London reinvented through French poetic influences and sultry Oriental imagery. She was ’Bedouin of the London evening’ in one poem: ’I have been young too long, and in a dressing-gown / My private modern life has gone to waste.’
All her published poetry is now available in this edition for the first time in over 40 years, along with a selection of her prose.
‘My reading life has been immeasurably improved by Rosemary Tonks’s Bedouin of the London Evening’ – Max Porter, Guardian (Books of the Year 2015)
‘The poet Rosemary Tonks her name in the 60s and 70s, then withdrew from public sight and published nothing in the later part of her life. Following her recent death, Neil Astley has collected and introduced her work in Bedouin of the London Evening. It’s a highly original collection, mingling savage realism with a surreal fancy, and it restores an essential voice of late-20th-century British poetry to its rightful place.’ – Andrew Motion, Guardian (Books of the Year 2014)
‘The world has waited for this slim volume since 1973…It is important for two reasons. First, we can read again her challenging and original poetry, long out of print; and second, with her devoted present publisher Neil Astley’s excellent introduction, we learn what happened to Tonks…Tonks repays deeper study: densely allusive, self-mocking, richly spiked with insight – and beauty. A great treat. An extreme spirit.’ – Caroline Bowder, Church Times (Christmas books)
‘Between 1963 and 1974, Rosemary Tonks published two collections of poetry as well as novels, short stories and reviews. Then she disappeared… Now, finally, Neil Astley has been able to compile her collected poems. And what a joy they are: sensuous, witty, alternately cool and hot-blooded. Tonks’s verse, perfectly tuned to the life of cities, channels Baudelaire and Rimbaud, but always in her own easy voice.’ – New Statesman, NS Recommends
‘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.’ – Patrick McGuinness, London Review of Books
‘…like Plath, Tonks made an extraordinary jump with her second collection, arriving at a confident and utterly distinctive voice. Like Ariel, Iliad seems to open new doors in poetry; like Ariel, the new beginning was also an abrupt end.’ – Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday
‘After publishing two seedily glittering books of verse in the 1960s, Rosemary Tonks – who died this year- renounced literature. This exciting collection restores to us a unique oeuvre which evokes the ‘sofas, fugs and cinemas’ of post-war London, as though the French poet Baudeliare had written in a Soho greasy spoon.’ – Jeremy Noel-Tod, Sunday Times
‘Forty years after her disappearance, this fascinating collection of her work returns her to us… this writing has unmistakable flair. It is bohemian, ardent, sensual and of its time.’ – Kate Kellaway, Observer
The e-book with audio edition of Bedouin of the London Evening includes audio recordings made in 1963 of Rosemary Tonks reading 12 of the poems and of her interview with Peter Orr.