BOOKS: Playing Up Old Possum

GREAT TOM

by T.S. MATTHEWS 219 pages. Harper & Row. $8.95.

A poet snores through the months of dormancy, then for a moment slips free of neurosis, professional chores, friends, money problems, sexual despair, family clatter and habits of sloth, and writes six lines. Four of these are bad, and as he sinks back into the murk at the bottom of his mind, he scratches them out. In a working lifetime he may only slip free for a very few days of these moments, and may accumulate enough good lines to fill at...