Rosemary Tonks (born 1932) is an English Poet/Novelist. Recently she has become known by a BBC Radio 4 show called Rosemary Tonks: The Poet Who Vanished. A great show; I think is still available on the internet. It’s what got me interested, or perhaps, intrigued is a better word. Anyway, I’m reeled in. What is lost appears always, I know, more precious, profound and mysterious. It can never be dusted or done away with, forgotten. Think Weldon Kees, The Aspern Papers. I’m reminded of a poem, the last lines, of a very long (terrific) poem by John Malcolm Brinnin called MY FATHER, MY SON I’ve never shaken:
…In your collar box I found
love poems –
Love poems! When had you written them? To whom?
Your heart you said, it “burned,”
You said, “You make the winter rains seem glad, my dear.
The sky above me smiles when you are near.”
They were so bad I cried.
Rosemary Tonks is that kind of discovery you hold for a moment and let go. It is that letting go that lingers. After writing 2 slim volumes of Poetry and several novels she disappeared from the public eye after a rumored, probably true, conversion to Fundamentalist Christianity.
That occurred in the 1970’s and very little of her life is known since then.
And these are slim volumes by today’s standards. About 30 pages each. The facts on her life are short. One internet note referred to her as a vivacious blonde. But who knows. That is the closest you’ll get to a jpeg of her. A family member spoke proudly of her hobnobbing with the great literary figures of her day such as Edith Sitwell. She worked for the BBC, writing stories and reviewing poetry. She published her poems in the OBSERVER, the LISTENER, ADAM, the POETRY REVIEW and many other journals of the day. Born in London and educated at Wentworth School, London. Expelled (wouldn’t we like to know) in 1948, she published a children’s story in the same year. I believe it is called Miss Bushman-Caldicott and is in Uncle Mac's Children's Hour Story Book.
At the age of 19 she married. She moved then to Karachi with her husband, where she began to write poetry. Attacks of typhoid and polio forced them to return to England. She lived for a brief time in Paris. In the 1970’s she disappeared from the luxurious home she shared with her banker husband Mickie in Downshire Hill, Hampstad, England.
The poet Andrew Motion wrote of her in 2004: she “Disappeared! What happened? Because I admire her poems, I’ve been trying to find out for years…no trace of her seems to survive – apart from the writing she left behind.”
Only traces of her work appear on the internet or in anthologies. THE ANTHOLOGY OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY BRITISH AND IRISH POETRY published three Tonks’ poems in 2001. It stated that permission to use her poems was obtained from a literary agency, Sheil Land Associates, Ltd. On the BBC show a literary agent, or someone whose name I’ve forgotten, spoke of being unable to obtain her permission to reprint her two poetry collections
NOTES ON CAFÉ AND BEDROOMS (1963) and ILIAD OF BROKEN SENTENCES (1967).
It is believed according to another BBC show that Tonks is 77 and living as a recluse in a garden shed and is no longer associated (if she ever was) with a commune of Christians but is indeed still a highly ‘spiritual’ person.