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Difficulty, Academia, and the Young

V: I’ve been quite disappointed recently at how polarized the poetry world can be. When I’m in London speaking to young poets and people there, they like a range of poets — then I get back to Oxford, and talking to graduate students it can seem sometimes like the only poets taken seriously are Hill, Muldoon, Prynne — these are the serious poets.

CR: You can see why. There is a great difference between those poets, but they all have something in common — difficulty. If you’re a graduate student — this is professionalization again — you want to admire something that other people can’t read, where there is work for you. Those three poets represent an employment opportunity. They wouldn’t like Elizabeth Bishop because she is, relatively speaking, quite easy, although she isn’t really that easy — as you know. But there are so many local pleasures, and you persist. ‘Filling Station’ — how can anyone resist it? Well these people can. Because it’s witty, it’s lovely, and they understand it. It appears to offer them no opportunity … what critics want is a pommel horse they can pirouette around, which will continue to support them while they’re being brilliant themselves. Elizabeth Bishop — well, there’s no place for your brilliance, because the thing itself is brilliant. It’s made out of glass. It’s a piece of sculpture. Young people always like difficulty. You want to be outdistancing people. When I started doing a doctorate, it was on Coleridge’s philosophy — and the reason I did it was because I wanted to be able to say to people at a dinner party, ‘I think if you’d read Kant’s Critique der Reinen Vernunft, you’d know that … ’ I wanted to be able to silence people. It’s a terrible impulse. But of course in the end I couldn’t get through Kant, it was unintelligible. But that’s what I wanted to do — so I recognise this impulse in all these graduate students. I suffered through it myself once...

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Liverpool FC and poetry have a lot of previous – from John Toshack’s Gosh It’s Tosh collection in the late 70s, to the verse of Dave Kirby and Peter Etherington in the fanzine Red All Over the Land, to the lines written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a University of Liverpool graduate, in the aftermath of 2012’s Hillsborough findings. Now there’s Ben Wilkinson, Reds fan and book critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, who’s compiling a series of poems commemorating the club’s legends. “Football is part of the fabric of life, and anything that’s important to people finds its way into poetry,” he says. “Wilfred Owen’s poem 'Disabled' describes a soldier who loses the use of his legs, meaning he can never play football again. Philip Larkin’s 'MCMXIV' compares boys queuing to join the army to fans outside Villa Park. These poems have stood the test of time because t…

About the Author

Welcome to the website of the English poet and critic, Ben Wilkinson.
Ben was born in Staffordshire and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He received his first degree from the University of Sheffield, and holds an MA and PhD from Sheffield Hallam University. He has won numerous awards for his poetry, including the Poetry Business Competition and a 2014 Northern Writers' Award
His debut full collection of poems, Way More Than Luck, appeared from Seren Books in February 2018.
He is a keen distance runner, lifelong Liverpool Football Club fan, and among other things he works as poetry critic for The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can find many of his reviews on this site.
To contact Ben about readings, workshops, or for any other enquiries, you can drop him a line at benwilko(at sign)gmail.com. Unfortunately, I am not able to consider unsolicited requests from authors for book reviews.

You can follow Ben on Twitter - @BenWilko85 - and on Facebook.

You can find B…

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 …