Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu

Tambimuttu claimed to be descended from the kings of Jaffnapatam; he certainly ruled over the principality of Fitzrovia. Tambi, as he was known in the literary bohemia of London during the 1940s and 1950s, was a poet but was better known as an editor and publisher - and for his friends, Dylan Thomas, Anthony Burgess and Julian Maclaren-Ross, among others. Later, he was associated with the Beatles' Apple Corps.

Meary James Thurairajah Tambimuttu, born in Ceylon in 1915 in Atchuvely, in the island's northeast, was taught by Jesuits in Trincomalee and studied botany at Colombo University. He had already published three volumes of his own poems before sailing to England in 1938, aged 22. Within a year of landing in London he founded, with Anthony Dickins, the journal Poetry, which later became Poetry London.

The term Fitzrovia refers to the Fitzroy Tavern on Fitzroy Square. Fitzrovia was spiritually part of Bloomsbury and definitely included Soho. (Today the area is the haunt of 'media types' of the 21st century.) Fitzrovia was based on scattered enclaves of drinking dens, cafes and publishers' offices, and the area's chief chronicler was Maclaren-Ross. Anthony Burgess has asserted that there was no literary movement in London during the 1940s except in the sense that 'poets and poetlings' moved together from pub to pub to take advantage of different closing times.

Lawrence Durrell, who chronicled Tambi's working methods, noted that 'the contents of his first number reposed under his bed in an enormous Victorian chamber pot.' Tambi sometimes held court at Turkish Baths at Russell Square, where he could escape the London cold. Summer and winter he wore a blue overcoat buttoned up to the chin. He only relinquished his tenancy at the baths when he could no longer ignore the 'deleterious effect of the steam on his manuscripts'. Maclaren-Ross describes Tambi waving at piles of manuscripts in his home. 'I have not time to read them. If they are no good perhaps they should be returned. They have been here a long time, the rats have eaten some.'

Tambimuttu has been described as a snake-hipped charmer, with a broad but angular, sharp-boned face, and wavy, velvety black hair that fell over a high-domed brow. His mouth has been described as sensual, his eyes intense and dreamy, dominated by large black pupils. His teeth and eyeballs flashed in the dusk of his face. A prehensile pink tongue flicked from his purple lips like a chameleon's. The Scottish poet and critic G S Fraser's wife, Paddy, described Tambi thus: his 'loud peremptory voice made you notice him at once. He was a commanding figure, though often the worse for drink. Tambi could be childish and stamped and swore when he could not get his own way. Yet he had a sweet smile and could be gentle and charming. He went straight for what he wanted, especially girls, and if he was rebuffed, he flew into terrible rages.' {Read on}