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Showing posts from September, 2014

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#5 Emily Berry's Dear Boy

If one of the most liberating moments in a writer's life comes with the realisation that lyric poetry allows you to make things up, the true revelation occurs when this deliciously sinful inventiveness delivers, somewhat paradoxically, the most eye‑opening and heartrending truths. Dear Boy, Emily Berry's first book of poems, is immediately striking for its sophisticated awareness of such artifice. Opening with a darkly comic account of life as a dramatised and scrutinised performance, the collection presents a host of surreally reimagined everyday scenes in which speakers and characters, by turns emotionally, intellectually and physically compromised, perform accepted, expected and imagined roles. "'Time for another / caffeine fix methinks!'" proclaims one, half intent on reinventing herself, before confiding that "I am not allowed coffee / because of my nerves, but the biographer doesn't / know this". Much of Dear Boy reads as an a…

Stag

The one I saw on the bypass that night –
antlers like a winter oak
as it strode from the roadside –
came again in a dream; keeping
its distance as it does every time.

When I met it for real I kept mine:
a stalled presence
on a stretch without streetlights;
its silhouette held there
before it turned and left.

In the dream, though, I follow –
into fields and meadows
where it spots me, begins to trot,
picks up pace before bolting off.
What if I could get close enough,

look it in those cavernous eyes?
What else could I hope to find
but yours, as all you said
echoes in my mind,
its glare passing through me?


poem by Ben Wilkinson

from For Real (Smith|Doorstop Books, 2014)




"The limits of our inarticulation": Antiphon's take on For Real

'Whenever I read Ben Wilkinson’s work I find myself admiring his craft. It carries a precision of thought and expression that’s hard to reproduce, in a syntax which is natural and a voice which is easy to hear, yet the poems abound with subtly used devices and effects. So natural is the tone that, when you hear him read, you can easily miss the fact of a carefully crafted sonnet or perhaps some clever variation on one ... Wilkinson disguises his full-rhymes with enjambement, so the audience experience both form and ‘natural flow’ at the same time. He’s always conscious of form, but rarely lets form dictate to him.'



The rest of the review can be read here, and for a limited time, For Real can be purchased with free UK p&p here.

A Place to Make Sense of the World

Ted Hughes said writing is about trying to take hold of the reality of your life. Why else work away at poems, redrafting and honing them? For me, the poem’s a place to make sense of the world and your place in it – to conjure up things that move, thrill and scare you. The poems in this pamphlet chart a period of intense personal change. Clinical depression hit me. For the first time I understood what others, friends and family alike, had fought with. I understood more about myself – how it was something I’d always carried, but also how hope and happiness come from the (sometimes painful) self-knowledge that poetry confronts. No coincidence one of the best-selling anthologies out there is called Staying Alive. I’m after emotional truth in these poems, though, not the documentary truth. Truths I hope anyone can recognise, rather than the illusion of a reliable account. I’m interested in different ways of seeing. We fall in love, and the world takes on a different shape and colour. A yo…

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#4 Sam Willetts's New Light for the Old Dark

With the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation Poets 2014 list landed, announcing 20 new voices who're lighting up the British poetry scene right now, I thought I'd have a rummage around the Wasteland archives, and revisit those few reviews of their first books I scribbled, invariably published in the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, or elsewhere. Today it's Sam Willetts, and his debut collection New Light for the Old Dark.





It is an audacious move for a poet to include a poem titled “Digging” in his first collection.

Fortunately, the similarities between Seamus Heaney’s celebrated meditation on work, identity and tradition and Sam Willetts’s vivid portrayal of heroin addiction and recovery end there. Willetts’s “Digging” concerns the junkie’s search for a vein, the “lantern-show flicker of tail-chasing, nameless days // spent waiting, cheating, waiting”, before “the waking-up to all that’s lost”. It’s a remarkable poem, owing to the manner in which the …

Moonlight

after Paul Verlaine



What of that night we ended up in some club,
dancing for the first time in years?
Again and again I was playing the chump
in the glitter of your perfect elegance.

You know I’ve this knack for self-sabotage –
trashing anything close to happiness –
though the countersunk bulbs in the ceiling
were stars, blinking back at your radiance.

How we stumbled into morning’s silence,
the full moon’s light like a lamp left on,
setting off the sobs of the Peace Gardens’
fountains, and that flash of purest birdsong.


poem by Ben Wilkinson


This poem is part of an ongoing portraiture project, in which I have drawn on the works of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) to produce new poems of my own. It is also an attempt, in some small way, to honour and revivify interest in a great French poet whose work deserves to be held in higher regard. Other poems from this project have appeared in various publications, including  The Poetry Review ('Joie de Vivre'; 'October') and the Times Literary Sup…

Michael Hofmann's Manifesto of the Flying Mallet

Poetry is—as the poet said, though his subject was butterflies—an army of stragglers. Contemporaries, aeons, and cultures apart slog wordlessly through the mud together, not at all pally, not at all like Virgil and Dante. There’s no uniform, no team shirt, no battle or plan of battle, no weapons, no organization, no hierarchy, no ranks or badges except for homemade ones that don’t count, enemies and detractors everywhere. Its colors you should think twice before rallying around (I don’t know what they are, perhaps sable on sable), and its only cavalry is the reader, and there’s only one of him or her, sitting at home minding his or her own business, without a horse to hand, or a thought of you. There are plenty of fellow travelers, whom you can tell from their air of confidence and impunity, and because they tend to get there faster. (Even though of course there is no “there.”)—How can I call anyone to the barricades?

What really matters in relation to poetry has probably never been sa…

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#3 Emma Jones's The Striped World

With the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation Poets 2014 list landed, announcing 20 new voices who're lighting up the British poetry scene right now, I thought I'd have a rummage around the Wasteland archives, and revisit those few reviews of their first books I scribbled, invariably published in the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, or elsewhere. Today it's Emma Jones, and her debut collection The Striped World.



The Striped World must have seemed to Australian poet Emma Jones an almost inevitable title for her debut collection, replete as it is with images of tigers, cages and containment.

From the “bright barred ... empire animal” of a pearl, a recurrent symbol throughout the book, to the “barred heart” of “Sentimental Public Man”, these poems reveal an abiding - at times exhausting - interest in barriers of all kinds, and in particular, a Cartesian fascination with our own marooned consciousnesses; how we inhabit our minds, as one poem has it, “like a paradi…

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#2 Alan Gillis's Here Comes the Night

With the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation Poets 2014 list landed, announcing 20 new voices who're lighting up the British poetry scene right now, I thought I'd have a rummage around the Wasteland archives, and revisit those few reviews of their first books I scribbled, invariably published in the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, or elsewhere. Today it's Alan Gillis, and his third collection Here Comes the Night.



Alan Gillis’s third collection, Here Comes the Night, borrows its title from a song by the 1960s rock band Them: an upbeat, breezy pop tune that masks a lyrical tale of loneliness and unrequited love. It is a fitting anthem for a book of poems whose bounding rhythms, fizzy slang and runaway clauses waver between melancholy and contentment, typically when the poet loses himself amid the bustle and blur of modern city life. Formal yet freewheeling, mixing descriptive detail with breakneck pace, most of Gillis’s poems run to several pages: th…

Next Generation Poets 2014 In Focus:
#1 Mark Waldron's The Brand New Dark

With the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation Poets 2014 list landed, announcing 20 new voices who're lighting up the British poetry scene right now, I thought I'd have a rummage around the Wasteland archives, and revisit those few reviews of their first books I scribbled, invariably published in the Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, or elsewhere. First up, Mark Waldron, and his debut collection The Brand New Dark.

The late American comic Bill Hicks once infamously began a stand-up routine with the deadpan line “If you work in advertising or marketing, kill yourself now”. He may well have made an exception for someone like Mark Waldron, a poet who writes adverts for a living. His debut, The Brand New Dark, is far removed from the clich├ęs and superficiality of modern commercialism; witty, subversive, often darkly comic poems which are full of unusual images and curious turns of phrase. But the world which Waldron deftly unpicks is also a bleakly decadent an…

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

With the announcement of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation 2014 promotion impending - a PR exercise that follows on from the New Generation of '94 and the Next Gen of 2004, aimed at introducing a mildly skeptical but smart reading public to some of the new British poets worth reading and listening to, and generally doing good by raising contemporary poetry's profile - the inevitable wave of minor back-biting and upset is already doubtless gathering a little inconsequential pace. Namely, among those who fear they/their pals won't be included in what they've ostensibly decided is the definitive Who's Who of contemporary British poetry just now.

The Next Generation 2014 won't be that, of course - but then the blinkered conceitedness of the 'snubbed' poet can be a terrible and amusing thing. We're only human, after all.

What, I think, we can hope for is that the promotion, run by the estimable Poetry Book Society of T.S. Eliot's conception

The Catch

For you, the catch wasn't something caught:
not word or contender, attention or fire.
Not the almost-missed train, or the sort
of wave surfers might wait an entire
lifetime for. Not the promise that leaves
the old man adrift for days, his boat
creaking, miles offshore. Nor what cleaves
the heart in two, that left your throat
parched and mute for taking pill
after yellow-green pill, the black-blue
taste the price you paid to kill
the two-parts sadness to one-part anger.
No. The catch was what you could never
let go. It's what you carried, and still do.


poem by Ben Wilkinson

from For Real (Smith|Doorstop Books, 2014)