Tom Raworth: 1938–2017

08 February 2017
Tom Raworth
Tom Raworth

29 July 1938 – 8 February 2017

The British poet Tom Raworth died on Wednesday, 8 February, after a long and courageous struggle with cancer. He will be remembered at UCT for his teaching of the very first course on creative writing, held in the English department in 1991; the exhibition of his books at the Jagger Library; and for the unforgettable readings he gave while here. A selection of writing by the students from the course was published as Velcro Donkey (Cape Town: Option 92, 1991).

The author of over forty books of poetry, his Collected Poems was published to acclaim by Carcanet Press in 2003, though this was followed by a number of subsequent books, including Windmills in Flame (Carcanet 2010) and the collected prose writings Earn Your Milk (Salt 2009). Regarded as one of the leaders of the British Poetry Revival, and widely respected by fellow avant-garde writers, he was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Alice Hunt Bartlett and Antonio Delfini prizes. His work has been translated into 14 languages, and he taught and read everywhere: from RSA to USA, from Mexico to Macedonia, in both China and Russia, and all over Europe.

He is remembered here by some of those he met at UCT.

South African poet, Ingrid de Kok writes: “It is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Tom. I met him when he was teaching at UCT, then visited him and Val in Cambridge, and kept intermittent contact with him over the years … But, sadly, not enough. What I will always celebrate (apart from his buoyancy and vinous dinners together) is his extraordinary combination of wry observation, inventive and generous encouragement of students, and his vital radicalism as a poet and person. That radicalism, in poetic form and subject, and in political commitment, made and make him a great, unique, uncompromised poet.”

Adult educator and literary critic Tony Morphet, writes: “Blessed with the ancient gifts of verse, Tom gave his life to bestowing them on us. Once heard, his voice could never be forgotten.”

Former student Jacques Rousseau writes that he “was a generous, diligent and thoughtful mentor” and Professor Lesley Marx added that “He was such a joy to be with.”

Condolences also come from novelists JM Coetzee, Zoë Wicombe and Henrietta Rose-Innes.

John Higgins (Arderne Chair in Literature) writes: “Speed: that was Tom’s essence. The roller-coaster exhilaration of his readings; the movement of montage on the still page; the unblinking attention to hypocrisies both political and poetic; the ever-sharp attention to the visual and natural world of light, colour and shade; the humour, the laughter and the provocation. Everything was so quick: eating, drinking, moving from one cigarette to another, putting on the next record … And there was so much laughter; we all had so much fun. Speed. And with it, the ability to connect and juxtapose. Was anyone ever so generous? Did anyone have so many far-flung friends?”

UCT sends its condolences to his wife, Valarie Raworth, their four surviving children, and four grandchildren.

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