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Rosemary Tonks, the lost poet

Rosemary Tonks was a feted poet, trenchant reviewer and literary socialite. And then she 'disappeared'. Following her death last month, Neil Astley traces her extraordinary story

The "disappearance" of the poet Rosemary Tonks in the 1970s was one of the literary world's most tantalising mysteries. Bizarre theories abounded as to her whereabouts if she was still alive. As the poet Brian Patten put it in a BBC radio feature about her in 2009, she "evaporated into air like the Cheshire cat". One contributor imagined her living in Cuba, "smoking cigars in a doorway". Other commentators over the years have made her into a nun; consigned her to a sect; had her communing with the ghost of Charles Baudelaire; or put her in a shed at the bottom of someone's garden. For some reason, these mythmakers always required her to be living in poverty.

Having tried to visit her myself, 10 years ago, I knew all these theories to be far from the truth. But out of respect for her declared wish, maintained by her family, that she should be left in peace, I kept her address and situation secret. Tonks died last month at the age of 85 (all the existing records had her as four years younger). She had indeed been living as a near-recluse but out of choice, quite comfortable in her circumstances. Even so, she remained restless in spirit, defiantly independent and quite alone in her continuing search for God, for she was ever alert to the "brainwashing", manipulative tendencies in the religious groups she encountered.

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