Rosemary Tonks (1928-2014) was a colourful figure in the London literary scene during the 1960s. She published two poetry collections, Notes on Cafés and Bedrooms (Putnam, 1963) and Iliad of Broken Sentences (The Bodley Head, 1967), and six novels, from Opium Fogs (1963) to The Halt During the Chase (1972), wrote for The Observer, The Times, The New York Review of Books, The Listener, The New Statesman and Encounter, and presented poetry programmes for the BBC.
Following the death of her mother, a crisis of religious faith, her divorce and nearly losing her sight, she renounced literature, suppressed her own books, left London for Bournemouth and cut herself off from family and friends. After travelling to Jerusalem in 1981 to be baptised by the River Jordan, she created a new identity for herself, her whereabouts known only to family. Thought to be living somewhere as a recluse, she was in fact continuing to inhabit cafés and parks, and was active as a silent, often solitary evangelist working outside any church, giving out Bibles in London and Bournemouth. In 2009 she was the subject of Brian Patten’s BBC radio documentary The Poet Who Vanished. All her published poetry was made available for the first time in over 40 years in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems, published by Bloodaxe Books in October 2014. This edition also includes a small selection of her prose.
Interest in her work grew following the publication of Bedouin of the London Evening, with new interest shown in her novels, all then unavailable, including a widely shared Backlisted podcast featuring her third novel, The Bloater (1968). This was reissued by Vintage Classics in 2022 with an introduction by comedian Stewart Lee, who championed her work on the podcast.
Books by Rosemary Tonks