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Way More Than Luck in The Poetry Review

Jade Cuttle gives her verdict on Way More Than Luck in the latest issue of The Poetry Review, in a critical essay that takes in two other debuts: Richard Scott's Soho and Zaffar Kunial's Us.

It's clear that the love of the beautiful game extends to Wilkinson's poetics, for he embraces a variety of forms and modes of address. From formally dexterous sonnets and sestinas, to epistles and endearing confessionalism, this is a book that likes to keep the reader's on their toes. Something Wilkinson does well is navigate the dark abyss of clinical depression [...] from "going about / the tedium that strings our lives / together: paperchain people, / baskets lined under strip-lights" ('To David Foster Wallace'), to shivering over a beige Cornish pasty, "ticking over / before some godforsaken motorway service station" ('You Must Be Joking'), there is tenderness and touching honesty to be found in the darker moments he describes. For this …
Recent posts

The Champion - a new poem

Because what I love best is the sweat,
swift force of will supplanting strength,
forehand cross-court with enough spin
to take your head off. Watch the racquet
warp above her glare, fighter pilot’s
propeller throttling on the ascent,
dent after dent in her opponent’s
confidence, winners she’s no right to hit.

Who wouldn’t want to watch that, grit
and graft above effortless grace?
Beauty’s for amateurs; success a story
of setback, repetition. Persistence
makes the moment you’ll watch again
and again, a burst of chalk or clay
as time and space bend to make way.

poem by Ben Wilkinson
image: Angelique Kerber wins Wimbledon 2018

"It's not what you think": Remembering John Ashbery (1927-2017)

As our new century has grown ever more peculiar and unpredictable, there has been something strangely reassuring about the arrival of a new book of poems by that impish treasure of American letters, John Ashbery. Ashbery didn’t quite publish a book every year in his final quarter century, but the past score have seen some 13 surface, a rate of productivity that would have made Paul Verlaine blush. Which would be great if – as we expect of our most celebrated 'experimental' poets – the abstract wordsmith were breaking new ground. But if the past couple of decades of reading Ashbery confirmed one thing, it’s that the late great man settled into a style so impressively self-parodic he almost looked like one of his legion of poetic imitators. Just as global warming becomes ever more physically manifest and unignorable, the creeping sense that, towards the end of his life, Ashbery was knocking out complete nonsense and passing it off as poetry simply because he could, is a concern …

Way More Than Luck: 27.2.18 - the launch

Books of the Year 2017

If 2017 was a lean year for poetry, as someone has said, I can’t say I noticed. Daljit Nagra’s The British Museum (Faber) introduced a clear-eyed, politically incisive approach to the poet’s established facility for socio-cultural commentary, in poems as rangy and playful as ever. Among debuts, Kayo Chingonyi’s Kumukanda (Chatto) is every bit as good as I expected, from its unflinching negotiations with lingering racial divisions, to its playfully nostalgic hymns to mixtape assembly, as well as rap and hip-hop’s influence on the poet. Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied (Faber) also deserves a mention, negotiating our strange times through precise image-making, conversational wit and formal skill. For poetry pamphlets, business again is booming, with too many to list here (though The Poetry Business has the lion’s share; hence their recent Best Publisher win at the Michael Marks). But one that’s definitely worth seeking out is Al McClimens’ Keats on the Moon (Mews Press). McClimens’ is…

Way More Than Luck (Seren Books, 2018)

From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More …

"It must get easier over time though":
Graft - a poem

In my poem 'Graft', the opening line is just a bit of reported speech. Something I heard said a while ago, by someone who'd never run competitively before, and who figured - or maybe just hoped - that athletes must stick with the sport because it gets easier over time. The truth of course, as any dedicated runner knows, is that it never gets any easier. Just faster. From there, the poem picks up the idea and runs with it. Where do our assumptions about success come from? Our dismissals of achievement? Why bother with anything that comes easily? What is it to run, to compete, and why do we exhaust ourselves and define ourselves by this pursuit?

first published in METER #02, published by Tracksmith. Poem forthcoming in Way More Than Luck, due from Seren Books in February 2018.