Friday, September 25, 2009

John Wilkinson: Down to Earth

Down to Earth, John Wilkinson (Salt, 2008)

I'm very keen on John Wilkinson's work, tho I'm sensible as well of the possible criticism that JW – now a professor at Notre Dame but before that (to his credit) a career non-academic, working for the UK mental health service for some 30 years – & yes, I suppose, a "Cambridge poet" – represents one of the purest examples of JH Prynne's influence on contemporary English poetry. But hey, I adore Prynne just short of idolatry, & am happy to read Prynne-werk of any sort, whether by JHP or not.

At any rate, I don't think that's a fair assessment of Wilkinson's work, anyway. The early books, certainly, show many Prynnian (Prynnesque?) marks – an extreme sentence by sentence disjunctiveness, a prickly & often esoteric, technical vocabulary, the continual subversion of semantic sense within the framework of conventional (if often attenuated) syntax. But Wilkinson's last few books, particularly the two he's produced since landing on this side of the Atlantic – Lake Shore Drive & Down to Earth – show him moving in a far more – er – down to earth direction. The freshness of language is still there, along with the often arresting shifts of register & a kind of agonized intellectual & emotional intensity, but they're integrated quite explicitly with a deep engagement with the contemporary – with geopolitics & American politics, with the fracturing of the environment, with the banal & marvelous American scene in general. If anything, in Down to Earth I'm struck by the precise formality of Wilkinson's syntax: at times I'm wondering if I'm reading the works of a Donald Davie late-converted to the avant-garde. He might take that as an insult; I mean it as nothing but compliment.

I've turned off the comment moderation, at least for newish posts; I get too much email already.

1 comment:

Ed Baker said...

this should be right up
(so to sprech)

Alan Baker's "alley"


thanks for the mention of Donald Davie

was trying to re:call
something or other

something about clarity and integrity.

he said and this is on my wall on an orange sheet of paper that he said/wrote:

"There is no necessary connection between the poetic vocations on the one hand, and on the other exhibitionism, egoism, and license."

I once saw him at an Ev Hesse art opening at a gallery in Manhattan...

late 60's

I have a copy of his The Shires

you know: not too many people ever even get to "the bridge"
much less
cross-over... bridging the gap (so to speak) as he did.