Ron Mueck

A Girl (2006), by Ron Mueck

Isn’t it incredible? I’ve been fascinated by Ron Mueck’s sculptures since I first saw a selection of them on display at the Royal Scottish Academy Building in Edinburgh, back in the summer of 2006. For those who aren’t aware of his work, Mueck started out as a model maker and puppeteer for children’s television and films (most notably the film Labyrinth), eventually switching to work in fine art given a desire to make more life-like creations viewable from all angles and perspectives. Consequently, he was introduced to the infamous Charles Saatchi by his mother-in-law, Paula Rego, who was instantly impressed with his sculpture and began collecting and commissioning works. This led to the piece that made Mueck’s reputation and the one for which most people know him for, Dead Dad (1997), a silicone and mixed media sculpture of the corpse of Mueck’s father that established Mueck’s incredible ability to create life-like sculptures in larger- (and often smaller-) than-life proportions.

The effect is one which critics have reacted to with equal measures of awe and amazement, infuriation and dislike. While poet and critic Craig Raine has written of Mueck’s ‘unquestionable genius’, Adrian Searle has said that ‘there is something unrelentingly kitsch and sentimental about everything he does’. It is certainly the case that Mueck’s sculptures resist easy interpretation, though this is perhaps more to do with the uncomfortable, voyeuristic position they often put the viewer in than with any artistic inadequacy.

In any case, one of my favourite Mueck works is any early piece, Mask (1997), a larger than life self-portrait that inverts the expectations we would typically bring to bear on such a work. This piece, in its disturbing, engrossing and almost terrifying proportions, has been followed by a further self-portrait, Mask II (2001-2), and a portrait of a smiling black woman, Mask III (2005). The photo of the original Mask below is as faithful as any photo can be, but to feel the full effect of Mueck’s work, particularly such large and overbearing pieces, you really have to witness them in the flesh (which, like all the features of his entirely human form sculptures, is incredibly life-like). In an attempt to capture the effect that the piece has on the viewer, then, I wrote the short poem below a few months ago. If it fails to give a sense of the power of Mueck’s work, perhaps it fails entirely, but rereading it today it at least helps to remind me of the ideas, emotions and thoughts that Mueck’s art stirs within.

Ron Mueck, Mask (1997)

The wall’s somehow whiter in bearing this face
but discerning’s impossible in holding its gaze –

it gives up nothing of itself; not the artist’s private
heaven or hell, stubble-dense, so what comes off

suddenly’s the overwhelming sense
of being watched, the defining of objects

by what they are not, and the same of the self,
while an epic self-portrait is turned inside-out –

a lesson in the panic or sternness in our eyes
that says more of our natures than the course of our lives…

poem by Ben Wilkinson



The new issue of 14 is out - the poetry magazine dedicated to the contemporary sonnet, in all of its wonderful - and sometimes wonderfully unusual - guises. Issue 6 is a strong one, featuring poems by Happenstance poet Patricia Ace, Eric Gregory Award winner Anna Woodford, and an impressive understated piece by Richard Lambert, alongside sonnets by a whole host of others. And to close the issue there's even a sentimental little piece by me on the loss of loves that might have been. What a treat! But in all sincerity, the magazine's a great read, having featured some excellent poets throughout its back issues, and at a snip of a price you can't afford not to buy a copy. Details can be found on the website, here.


As Bad as a Mile

Matt Merritt linked to an interesting article in the Telegraph recently, addressing Larkin's poetry and its tendency to 'tell the reader what to think'. Of course, all this is a matter of opinion, as Larkin isn't necessarily telling the reader what to think in even his most forthright poems. After all, despite what A.N. Wilson says, 'Life is first boredom, then fear' (from 'Dockery and Son') ultimately amounts to no more than a certain viewpoint, whether or not this particular opinion matches up with the views Larkin held, or indeed, the way he lived his life. Larkin's intention wasn't to tell us what to think, but to offer us a way of thinking. In fact, I still return to his work now, and while I may be more inclined than some to agree or sympathise with a handful of the near-statements Larkin's poems make, I don't see that what he offers us are mere emotional, social or spiritual dead ends. Just think of the possibility of transcendence that concludes 'High Windows', or the varying interpretations one might bring to the aphoristic close of 'Mr Bleaney'. Larkin's poems ultimately serve to offer us a view of the world, and as such, serve to get us questioning and thinking. Whether this infuriates some is besides the point. After all, every poem is in conversation with every other, and just as importantly, in conversation with the reader. Why shouldn't poems serve to anger as well as excite us? That's what provoked Carol Rumens to write her response to 'This Be The Verse'.

Back in October 07, I chose 'As Bad as a Mile' as the Poem of the Month for the Philip Larkin Society, having previously opted for 'Sunny Prestatyn' as my favourite in April 05. Unfortunately, the poem and my comments were only live on the site for a short while, and the website, having undergone many changes, is currently still under construction in parts. Until the archive of previous choices is live, then, I thought I'd post my comments on 'As Bad as a Mile' here: a short little poem that appeared in Larkin's most successful and well-remembered collection, The Whitsun Weddings. The poem is one of many that is testament to both Larkin abilities as a poet and to his work's lasting value, and one that I feel dispels notions of his 'telling us what to think'. Since I do not have permission to reprint the poem here, you can find it in full by clicking here.

As Bad as a Mile

[this analysis can now be found on The Philip Larkin Society's website]


The Man Without A Heart

A bit of an experiment here: a sort of narrative poem with an alternate rhyme scheme and wavering four foot lines. As ever, comments are welcome.

...it's gone now...

Andy McKee

A friend of mine first brought incredible fingerstyle guitarist Andy McKee to my attention last summer. But it wasn't until I saw this stellar version of Toto's classic hit 'Africa' that I was really moved by his music. Truly incredible. Enjoy.



As the wind howls outside and something that’s trying to be snow descends from the skies, what better time is there to spend a while browsing an exciting new poetry ezine? Pomegranate is something I stumbled across recently: a plucky endeavour from a bunch of Foyles Young Poets prize-winners that aims to give a voice and literary platform to young writers everywhere. So far, two issues have been published, containing poetry from the likes of Forward Prize-shortlisted Salt poet Luke Kennard and Mimesis editor James Midgley, as well as refreshing work by some really promising and startlingly young poets including Emily Tesh, Martha Sprackland and Richard O’Brien.

Highlights from issue 1 include O’Brien’s ‘On Returning to the Morrison’s Produce Department’ and Tesh’s ‘Interview with a Goddess’, and James Midgley’s ‘Seducing the Leopard Gecko’ makes for the wonderfully descriptive and impressive stand-out piece from issue 2. Well, at least in my humble opinion anyway: head over there yourself to check out what’s on offer. The link’s here.

And if you like what you find, there’s more in store: issue 3’s out in March, and the next issue of longstanding print-based poetry magazine Magma, edited by Roddy Lumsden, promises to be one of the most exciting in recent years, featuring work by some of the Pomegranate team, other up and coming poets, interviews, and a sequence from yours truly. It too will be available in March, with news and updates on the Magma website. In the meantime, and before I post on it, I’ll be working on a few reviews, as well as looking forward to the results of various competitions, including the National: I’ll be holding out for a slightly more adventurous winner this year, especially with Penelope Shuttle on the judging panel.