Collected Poems

Collected Poems : with translations of Jacques Prevert

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A.S.J. Tessimond (1902-1962) was one of the most individual, versatile and approachable voices in 20th century poetry. Influenced at first by the Imagists, his poetry is remarkable for its lucidity and formal exactness and for its witty, humane depiction of life in the modern city. Out of step with his contemporaries - both Pound and Eliot as well as Auden and his followers - Tessimond was always a marginalised figure, publishing only three collections in his lifetime, one in each decade from 1934 to 1958. Yet his work has been popular enough to be included in numerous anthologies and has been a perennial favourite with listeners of radio programmes such as Poetry Please. This edition is a long awaited reissue of the posthumous Collected Poems edited by his friend the writer Hubert Nicholson, who characterised his poems as 'beautiful, shapely, well wrought and elegant, whether in public of private mode', penetrating the heart of both London and England: 'His hallmark, his unique contribution to the body poetic, is to be found in those poems encapsulating urban types - and the institutions that shape and demarcate their lives, the popular press and radio, films, money, advertising, houses, tube stations, the implacable streets...He wrote a good deal about love, its hopes and ecstasies and its frustrations and sadness.' As Nicholson has pointed out, Tessimond wrote many poems in the first person, 'but they are not in the least egotistical. They are imaginative projections of himself into types, places, generalised Man, even God or Fate.' He was 'entirely a man of the city', his 'landscape' pieces depicting Hyde Park Corner, Chelsea Embankment, a Paris cafe and even an overcrowded bus in Jamaica. 'He loved the life around him and was a meditative as well as an observant man. He reflected, and reflected on, the passing show, kindly, honestly, and with wit and wisdom.' Tessimond has been described as an eccentric, a night-lifer, loner and flaneur. He loved women, was always falling in love, but never married. He suffered from frequent bouts of depression, alleviated neither by a succession of psychiatrists nor by electric shock therapy. The fact that he was plagued by self-doubt and was fiercely critical of his own work must have contributed to his work being too little published and too much neglected, despite being championed by an extraordinary variety of admirers, from Michael Roberts, John Lehmann and Ceri Richards to Bernard Levin, Maggie Smith, Bill Deedes and Trevor McDonald. Maggie Smith read his poem 'Heaven' at the funeral of Bernard Levin, for whom Tessimond was 'a quiet voice, which makes it easy to miss the resonances, but they are there, and although I doubt if he will achieve a widespread fame, I am sure that any future anthology of twentieth-century English verse that does not include a sample of his work will be less complete, less representative and less valuable than it might have been.' In an obituary for The Times, Tessimond's friend, the critic George Rostrevor Hamilton, said he was 'modest about his poetry, and sometimes thought it too small to be worthwhile. But over and above a dry wit and fancy, he had an exquisite feeling for words, meticulous but, like himself, without affectation. In his own way he was unrivalled.'
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Product details

  • Paperback | 208 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 15mm | 399g
  • Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom
  • English
  • Reissue
  • 1852248572
  • 9781852248574
  • 508,172

About A. S. J. Tessimond

Arthur Seymour John Tessimond (1902-1962) was born in Birkenhead. He was sent to study at Charterhouse but ran away from school at 16. After taking a degree at Liverpool University, he tried his hand at teaching but only lasted two terms, whereupon he broke off his engagement and moved to London, working there in bookshops for two years before becoming an advertising copywriter. At the beginning of the Second World War, he gave up his job and flat and went on the run to avoid conscription, having decided he would be 'intensively miserable' as a soldier as well as 'useless and dangerous to others'. When he finally submitted himself to an army medical, he was declared unfit for service. One friend from his time in advertising was the Welsh painter Ceri Richards who, with his artist-wife Frances, remained close from 1928 till the end of his life, and she has written how three days before his death she had to take food and money to his Chelsea flat because he had given everything away to his latest girlfriend. Tessimond has been described as an eccentric, a night-lifer, loner and flaneur. He loved women, was always falling in love, but never married. His friend and literary executor, the poet and novelist Hubert Nicholson (1908-96), editor of his posthumous Collected Poems, wrote of his later circumstances: 'Tessimond's father left him about four thousand pounds, a sum not to be sneezed at, in 1945. He spent half of it on his nightclub hostesses, striptease girls and models, and the other half on "four or five successive psychoanalysts", for by the onset of middle age he had become gravely manic depressive. In the depth of his depression he often contemplated and talked of suicide, but never actually attempted it. 'In the final phase of his life he underwent electric shock therapy at ever-shortening intervals. This had a deleterious effect on his memory, though not on his intellect. It temporarily raised his spirits to a rather hectic pitch, and may or may not have staved off self-destruction. Perhaps it may also have shortened his life. 'On May 15, 1962, he was found dead in his flat in Chelsea, from natural causes, a brain haemorrhage, some two months before his sixtieth birthday. He had apparently been dead for two days before his body was discovered. Old age, which he had always feared, was never to be his.' Tessimond published three books of poetry in his lifetime: The walls of glass (Methuen, 1934), Voices in a giant city (Heinemann, 1947), and Selection (Putnam, 1958). Hubert Nicholson edited two posthumous selections, Not love perhaps - (Autolycus Publications, 1978) and Morning meeting (Autolycus Publications, 1980), before bringing together all Tessimond's work that had appeared in book form along with 27 uncollected poems and 25 previously unpublished or uncollected translations in The Collected Poems of A.S.J. Tessimond, with translations from the French of Jacques Prevert (Whiteknight Press, University of Reading, 1985). The latter volume was republished by Bloodaxe Books with Whiteknights Press in 2010.
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