Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Review: The Sparks, by Ben Wilkinson

The Sparks might be Ben Wilkinson’s first pamphlet, published as part of Tall Lighthouse’s Pilot Series, but this is a young poet showing his mastery of varied techniques rather than trying them on for size.

Wilkinson’s work is meticulously structured and layered, displaying great turns of phrase such as “the sudden void of shadows” or “the prayer-still street”, yet his language isn’t flashy. Every word is doing a job. There are hints at wide reading and multiple influences - Wilkinson has a growing reputation as a reviewer - but he manages to limit their intrusion by deftly subverting them into his poetics.

One of the main strengths of The Sparks is its terrific evocation of the tension between individuals and the social and physical hubris that surrounds them, as in this example from The Quiet:

I was drinking my way through a fifth pint of lager
and sparked up a fag as the tidemarks grew larger,
walked to the bar as the music grew louder

and noticed in minutes I’d clocked up two hours
when stumbling away from the urinal’s cowl
I turned to the exit to make for your house…

Our journey through the urban labyrinth certainly preoccupies Wilkinson, even impinging on settings beyond the city. Booze, fags (and more!) are images that reflect this jostling and come to the forefront once more in the pamphlet’s closing poem, Reflections…

…as we sat on the shingle drinking lukewarm
cans of lager. Not even my Zippo flame could
captivate the water’s oil-black darkness…

…Well, after I sparked that joint up, just then,
from where we were sitting I swear the ocean
was held like that for one hell of a second…

In The Sparks Ben Wilkinson stakes out a poetic territory, both in stylistic and thematic terms, yet there’s clearly even more to come over the next few years. Conor O’Callaghan, a fine poet himself, provides a key insight on the back cover, stating that Wilkinson is beginning “the difficult task of unlearning”. This excellent pamphlet demonstrates he’s already a fair way along that route. I look forward eagerly to his first full collection.

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