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Bedouin of the London Evening review Rosemary Tonkss lost poems

Influenced by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, the late poet made her name in the 60s then disappeared from the world of literature thankfully, her poems are back

The photograph of Rosemary Tonks on the cover of this book was taken by the Observers Jane Bown in the 1960s. Tonks sits in a Soho cafe wearing tweed trousers, with a mannish beauty and a determination about her stance that extends to the set of her jaw. What is most interesting is the strength of her presence, because what she would become famous for is absence. After making her name between 1963 and 1974 her work celebrated by Cyril Connolly, Al Alvarez and Philip Larkin she went missing in the 70s. In a 2009 Radio 4 documentary, Brian Patten speculated about her whereabouts in vain. And now, as one looks twice at the photo, it does seem as if she might be on the point of standing up and leaving the cafe for good.

Forty years after her disappearance, this fascinating collection of her work returns her to us, and editor Neil Astley tells how 10 years ago he went in search of her (tipped off, one assumes, by her family, who knew where she was). Hers is an extraordinary, disturbing and melancholy tale. She broke with poetry as you might turn your back on a destructive love affair. She became a socially challenged Christian based in Bournemouth and changed her name to Mrs Rosemary Lightband. A hopeful name for a life that sounds more embattled than breezy. She died in April this year, aged 85. It is Astleys contention that she probably had a borderline personality disorder. He describes a shocking bonfire in which she burned priceless family heirlooms because she saw them as idolatrous a loss of oriental treasures to make Sothebys weep. Meanwhile the Bible had become the one book she would countenance. She would not have agreed to the publication of her collected poems, yet the delicate decision to overrule her is something Astley persuasively defends.

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