Tottering State

Tom Raworth

2000 • 231 pp. • $15.00
ISBN: 9781882022380

Purchase from Small Press Distribution

“The writings in this Tottering State are ardent, wry, wise, brilliant—they are subtle and momentous. They are responsive to the minute as to the massive pressures that language and life exert. They are explorations, not outcomes. And yet they make demands, and consequences continually occur. Some of these consequences are funny (Tom Raworth has a tragedian’s sense of the comic as one of life’s fated inevitabilities), some are frightening or sad. These are among the greatest writings of our times.”
—Lyn Hejinian

“In the permanent trouble of postmodern the glassblown lucky striking into the doped heart of the time bomb bar tab royal pardoning handlewithcare gestures of a little/out side that’s mine are the fierce loving exquisiteness of Tom Raworth. The work is a comasyouare ritual reengagement with the music of those crystals set/in joints of syntax never administered or bullied or mediated but instantaneously politic in a civil war ahead of the traffic.”
—Heather Fuller

“Single-handedly, Tom Raworth has restored the value of quickness to English poetry. His is the alacrity of Shelley, of Byron, of Gerard Manley Hopkins, reinforced to meet a modern urgency. It is poetry of sensation, intelligence flashing down the spillway, faster than thought.”
—Bill Berkson

“Brides in the source nail the soap-opera out of doowops? And then the parnassians for milfoils without floor-leaders. The Raworth loves to hum them toward the endeavor.”
—Clark Coolidge

“Tom Raworth wants to get all the way round the railroad earth before the bell rings, one of the few who even try, & we get these tottering states, equal parts light and dark of mind, lavished on us when he does, & he often does.”
—Anselm Berrigan

“Stretched tight across Life while allowing both mind & eye to breathe, this writing orients reading on the set where the action is. The backcloth is limitless/polychromatic (& no, the walls of the ego are not the walls of the set). As Shorty Fleming noticed while out picking plums: ‘Tom Raworth’s ( )ed through that fence.’”
—Miles Champion


Tom Raworth was born and grew up in London. During the 1970s he traveled and worked in the United states and Mexico, returning to England in 1977 to be Resident Poet at King’s College, Cambridge, in which city he lived for many years. Since 1966 he has published more than 40 books and pamphlets of poetry, prose and translations, in several countries. His graphic work has been shown in France, Italy, and the United States, and he has collaborated and performed with musicians (Steve Lacy, Joëlle Léandre, Steve Nelson-Raney, Esther Roth, Nino Locatelli), painters (Giovanni D’Agostino, Micaëla Henich), and other poets (Franco Beltrametti, Corrado Costa, Dario Villa). In 1991 he was invited to teach at the University of Cape Town: the first European writer to visit there for thirty years. Raworth now lives in Brighton, Sussex.


i would be eight people and then the difficulties vanish
only as one i contain the complications
in a warm house roofed with the rib-cage of an elephant
i pass my grey mornings re-running the reels
and the images are the same but the emphasis shifts
the actors bow gently to me and i envy them
their repeated parts, their constant presence in that world
i would be eight people each inhabiting the others’ dreams
walking through corridors of glass framed pages
telling each other the final lines of letters
picking fruit in one dream and storing it in another
only as one i contain the complications
and the images are the same, their constant presence in that world
the actors bow gently to each other and envy my grey mornings
i would be eight people with the rib-cage of an elephant
picking fruit in a warm house above actors bowing
re-running the reels of my presence in this world
the difficulties vanish and the images are the same
eight people, glass corridors, page lines repeated
inhabiting grey mornings roofed with my complications
only as one walking gently storing my dream

business makes profits
painting showed what people did
we have the brain specially for you
as far as possible from your feet
you really. need, to, be, a man
painting the forth bridge
could be
their hobby was playing as children
the first clock with arabic numerals

or is life cold?
in the early hours as the fire is dying
take another bottle
bunch up the pillow
to sit staring with only a blanket
it’s time the flying saucer left
my thoughts like grease around you
as you swim across

do you remember a hill, miranda?
and the times we’d sit on the cool veranda
talking of films was it bande a
part from you there is no-one miranda
and just about here i had planned to
change the rhyme
just one more time
a reverse. last line
miranda. a hill. i remember. do you?

now the melody
in the pattern of shadows
one shadow behind
slow cello music
pushing the velvet armchair
as the rain comes down
time under pressure
dawn, and the green butterflies
crossing the ice-cap
tracked down by process
inside the dentist’s peephole
, but i fixed him good
spinnets of silver
one hair caught between my teeth
whose? i’ve been away
the wax filtered sounds
earth where imagination
spreads a boned circle
a mould of eyelids
under the singing emblem
cough, and he dropped them
the problem of form
within this limitation
he drops a sylla