Two Poems:Goodbye, Tobacco and Day Thirty-Two

01 December 2012

ABOUT THE POEMS What is the difference between a lyric poem and a narrative poem? Not always a lot, as these poems by the British poet Tom Warner reveal. The tension generated by Warner’s poems is not just that of a precisely weighted colloquial language working within and against the poetic line, but also that of the speaker gradually dissenting from his very own story. The poems enact pitched battles that gradually seem to “blow away in streams”, like the tobacco of the first poem, and open out into sublime visions of human beings foreseeing and therefore staving off a fall (“Goodbye, Tobacco”) or reaching a difficult, even defiant peace, as when the protagonist of “Day Thirty-Two” finally reveals the gulf that lies between his own needs and those of his stressed and hysterical companions. The vulnerability and determination of Warner’s speakers as they test their own values against those of the world project an irresistible charm, and we realise that point of view in literature is at heart a celebration of idiosyncrasy, of the reason of human unreason. The workings of the poet’s own sly wit (the joke about the seventh line of a poem in the seventh line of a poem, the image of a shipwrecked man returned to his simian origins as he lies on an island “like a gorilla in a zoo”) are deployed in shrewd counterpoint to the speakers’ voices. These are poems that every smoker and office-goer will want to cut out and paste above their desks.

Goodbye, Tobacco

The half an ounce I bought today will be my last;

Tom Warner has previously won an Eric Gregory Award, the Plough Prize, the Escalator Prize and a Faber New Poets Award. A pamphlet of his poetry was published by Faber & Faber in 2010.