The Tom Poems’ originates in the chance discovery by Cobbing of a book of theoretical linguistics in a bookshop in Vienna, during a visit to the city in the company of Tom Leonard, in 1983, to perform at a sound poetry festival. Written with Leonard (implicitly) in mind, the language of the poem is derived from model sentences presented in the book, the nominal subject of which is ‘Tom’, a faceless grammatical mannequin whose sole purpose is illustrative. The seriousness and humour of ‘The Tom Poems’ derive from the apparent merging and separation of ‘Tom’, the model English cipher, and Tom the Scottish vernacular poet, a ‘poor’ language ‘refugee’. Inasmuch, ‘The Tom Poems’ asks to be read, it is argued, not only as a warm tribute to Leonard but also as a polemical and subversive address.
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