Thoughts on Wilkinson

I want to understand better what I like about reading John Wilkinson.

And as it happens to be in front of me, I’m going to talk about Down to Earth (Salt, 2006).

The effect of reading Wilkinson’s poems is disorientating, but they almost always display a syntactic and grammatical logic. My brain does not encourage me to find and follow the meaning in a linear fashion – it just assumes it’s there already. I respond in the same way to Oulipian N+7 poems. One feels traces of a source text hidden beneath the poem.

Like Prynne, Wilkinson favours dense, tightly woven blocks of text. Regular syllabics reinforce that sense of the poem’s integrity as a unit of meaning. It coheres.

Verbs propel you forward. ‘Rich with verbs, the sense of happenings, deeds, potentialities, necessities, results’ – Roy Fisher.

But Wilkinson’s verbs often lack subject or object, leaving you with a strange sense of a world depopulated; in which control/agency has been passed up, given over.

Beats slip, gears mash,
clutch though they disjoin,
rivulets grip the gravel,
mash conforms to mesh.

(‘In Tempo’)

This is crunchy sonics, wordplay and punning. But unlike someone like, say, Paul Muldoon, you don’t have the sense of the poet’s voice behind the text. No, these poems are unguided, unvoiced; mechanical/industrial. I suppose this is why Wilkinson falls into the ‘difficult’ camp, whilst Muldoon is merely… I dunno… ‘tricksy’ or ‘playful’.

Talking of mechanics… I think of Ballard a lot when reading Wilkinson: his dystopian vision of a world dominated by ‘oil, rods & concrete’ (that’s Wilkinson, of course).

The warm flanks of trashed cars,
the hot leather,
blue leather blistering like bee stings proliferate.

(‘Ravenous At Noon’)

Here you have the Ballardian holy trinity of sex, violence and the automobile.

Other mechanical/industrial/sci-fi reference points:

lunar chafing trays

Lipped or canted space

Harlem Air Shaft

A powered hub

Glass & chrome sing

the loom fires & shunts

To contradict myself slightly, Wilkinson’s poems may evoke automated, networked modernity, but they are not without personality.

‘Lyric grace’ – Patrick McGuinness

‘A haunting, unheard of lyric poetry’ – Adam Phillips

Do they approach the lyric? I don’t know. I guess it depends on your definition of ‘lyric’. And certainly there is something of a reclaiming of this term within avant-garde circles. I am thinking of Tim Atkins, Emily Critchley, Harriet Tarlo, Geraldine Monk, DS Marriott, Chris McCabe and others. The lyric as marker of linguistic excess, extravagance, and, crucially, of music.

What I do find in Wilkinson is the sudden injection of often incongruous voices or register. The effect is disruptive and exciting, suggestive of the mashing together (or layering up) of experience.

O how free I am amongst the yapping dogs.
Broom pods crackle. Rivulets of molten glass solidify.

(‘Hunter at Dusk’)

What strikes me
shut into the car’s inside
narcolepsy
what strike
dégringolade
de-
compensation
long words:
merging left shrinks shadows into porch steps,
curlicues of trapped music
kerb-crawling through my sleep.
Whatsup.

(‘South Unbound’)

I haven’t of course talked of the politics of these poems. Car bombs, war, finance; the application of power, often by violent means. ‘Freedom’ appears again and again, as if to imply a word stretched beyond its limits. The language is resistant, for sure, but against what, and to what end is harder to distinguish. There is a strong suggestion of control. Of things being altered forcefully, irreparably changed. Cut, slash, shave, pack, crush, ‘sear, drown, clench’, &c. This is the vocabulary of industry, and of physical abuse. The world ordered and aggressively exploited by commerce.

One poem points most overtly towards the control of the many by the few.

‘Excuse Me’

Lined up for the gangmaster at dawn,
set off like a boost of painted pebbles,
faces clatter into runnels, into plough
ridges, burst like sacks of lime
& broken arms & legs, hollow necks
march resurrected. Forces make strikes,
swank their nakedness, now the tax-
exempt, I pour my heart out, I do,
boast fruit.

I want to understand better what I like about reading John Wilkinson.

And as it happens to be in front of me, I’m going to talk about Down to Earth (Salt, 2006).

The effect of reading Wilkinson’s poems is disorientating, but they almost always display a syntactic and grammatical logic. My brain does not encourage me to find and follow the meaning in a linear fashion – it just assumes it’s there already. I respond in the same way to Oulipian N+7 poems. One feels traces of a source text hidden beneath the poem.

Like Prynne, Wilkinson favours dense, tightly woven blocks of text. Regular syllabics reinforce that sense of the poem’s integrity as a unit of meaning. It coheres.

Verbs propel you forward. ‘Rich with verbs, the sense of happenings, deeds, potentialities, necessities, results’ – Roy Fisher.

But Wilkinson’s verbs often lack subject or object, leaving you with a strange sense of a world depopulated; in which control/agency has been passed up, given over.

Beats slip, gears mash,

clutch though they disjoin,

rivulets grip the gravel,

mash conforms to mesh.

(‘In Tempo’)

This is crunchy sonics, wordplay and punning. But unlike someone like, say, Paul Muldoon, you don’t have the sense of the poet’s voice behind the text. No, these poems are unguided, unvoiced; mechanical/industrial. I suppose this is why Wilkinson falls into the ‘difficult’ camp, whilst Muldoon is merely… I dunno… ‘tricksy’ or ‘playful’.

Talking of mechanics… I think of Ballard a lot when reading Wilkinson: his dystopian vision of a world dominated by ‘oil, rods & concrete’ (that’s Wilkinson, of course).

The warm flanks of trashed cars,

the hot leather,

blue leather blistering like bee stings proliferate.

(‘Ravenous At Noon’)

Here you have the Ballardian holy trinity of sex, violence and the automobile.

Other mechanical/industrial/sci-fi reference points:

lunar chafing trays

Lipped or canted space

Harlem Air Shaft

A powered hub

Glass & chrome sing

the loom fires & shunts

To contradict myself slightly, Wilkinson’s poems may evoke automated, networked modernity, but they are not without personality.

‘Lyric grace’ – Patrick McGuinness

‘A haunting, unheard of lyric poetry’ – Adam Phillips

Do they approach the lyric? I don’t know. I guess it depends on your definition of ‘lyric’. And certainly there is something of a reclaiming of this term within avant-garde circles. I am thinking of Tim Atkins, Emily Critchley, Harriet Tarlo, Geraldine Monk, DS Marriott, Chris McCabe and others. The lyric as marker of linguistic excess, extravagance, and, crucially, of music.

What I do find in Wilkinson is the sudden injection of often incongruous voices or register. The effect is disruptive and exciting, suggestive of the mashing together (or layering up) of experience.

O how free I am amongst the yapping dogs.

Broom pods crackle. Rivulets of molten glass solidify.

(‘Hunter at Dusk’)

What strikes me

shut into the car’s inside

narcolepsy

what strike

dégringolade

de-

compensation

long words:

merging left shrinks shadows into porch steps,

curlicues of trapped music

kerb-crawling through my sleep.

Whatsup.

(‘South Unbound’)

I haven’t of course talked of the politics of these poems. Car bombs, war, finance; the application of power, often by violent means. ‘Freedom’ appears again and again, as if to imply a word stretched beyond its limits. The language is resistant, for sure, but against what, and to what end is harder to distinguish. There is a strong suggestion of control. Of things being altered forcefully, irreparably changed. Cut, slash, shave, pack, crush, ‘sear, drown, clench’, &c. This is the vocabulary of industry, and of physical abuse. The world ordered and aggressively exploited by commerce.

One poem points most overtly towards the control of the many by the few.

‘Excuse Me’

Lined up for the gangmaster at dawn,

set off like a boost of painted pebbles,

faces clatter into runnels, into plough

ridges, burst like sacks of lime

& broken arms & legs, hollow necks

march resurrected. Forces make strikes,

swank their nakedness, now the tax-

exempt, I pour my heart out, I do,

boast fruit.

Yeah, f**k you Cowell

Just spotted that my poetry collection has appeared in Salt Publishing’s Top 20. Or rather, that it’s just sneaked in. At No. 20 (or, if you discount the fiction books and anthologies: No. 12!).

So go on, treat yourself, or a significant other, at Christmas by purchasing a copy of How To Build A City, which contains poems and other things about cities, ukeleles, yoga and medieval saints. Or if you’d rather not contribute to yet another ‘Best of’ or ‘Top 20′ then head over to Penned in the Margins and grab Weather A System or Static Exile (the newest titles). They’re both better than socks, pocket torches, and overpromoted pop singles.

I’m starting to feel pretty cheap –

Merry Christmas everyone.

Tom x

The cities we walk through

autumn_lo

My copy of the Autumn issue of Poetry London popped through the post today (Post, you say? Oh yeah – ) and lo and behold it contains a review – the first in print – of my book How To Build A City. I’m pretty ecstatic. That horribly talented Luke Kennard was tasked with perusing my poems, and found them… to his taste.

Here are some choice cuts:

Worse luck, How To Build A City is so good it scares me. It’s a debut collection which is angry, vital and constantly surprising with a pleasing earthiness to the language.

Chivers’s writing feels refreshing and necessary, a genuine, lyrical appraisal of contemporary life, something about the mediated layers of reality we experience every day.

The lazy reviewer in me just wants to write something like from spam email to urban foxes, Chivers has his finger on the zeitgeist. Which is exactly the opposite of what the work’s trying to do, which it seems to me, is to stop us blithely using terms like zeitgeist at all.

I really admire Luke’s work, so it’s great to get this kind of praise. I still have some signed copies of the book, so message me if you’d like one – and I’ll include a new original poem to boot. Alternatively, nab a copy from my publisher (which is also Luke’s… conspiracy theories start and end here).

Cyclone Virtual Tour – Legs IV-V

That’s it. Tour over. Thanks to everyone who made it possible – my agent, my manager, miscellaneous roadies, the big man, &c. &c.

Errata

The Poet of Sparty Lea is being repeated on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday night at 11.30pm.

Cyclone Virtual Tour – Legs I-III

  • On Monday I was interviewed by Julie Palmer-Hoffman (aka The Book Grocer) for Londonist.com
  • On Tuesday poetry blogzine Gists & Piths aired my ‘Statement of Intent’ and a short film
  • Today Michelle McGrane interviews me for Peony Moon

It’s all in aid of promoting me book: How To Build A City. It’s available from Salt Publishing for £10.39. I have a few signed copies left for £12.99.

The Triple Launch


  

My first collection How To Build A City was launched alongside new books from Abi Curtis and Luke Kennard two Saturdays ago, and here is the video evidence. It was a great night, hosted by that charming genius Ross Sutherland – the venue (The Slaughtered Lamb) was absolutely rammed, and consequently pretty hot and sticky. Also, a troupe of burlesque pole dancers had been using the space before us – really. Thanks to everyone who came along. To those who didn’t, you know what to do.

Also, here are some photos.

 

All photos copyright Jack Carr 2009.