Thursday, August 13, 2009
Today, I’m glad to feature Ben Wilkinson on Surroundings. Some of you may know him from his blog, Deconstructive Wasteland. Some of you may have read his debut pamphlet, The Sparks. It’s a very good read, published as part of tall-lighthouse’s pilot series for introducing the work of talented younger poets.
Ben has allowed me to publish a poem from it below and has answered a couple of questions:
These days, the way my mind works,
when she and I are side-by-side the morning after
in a bedroom-cum-DIY-disaster
it takes no more than a number or word
or her surreptitious hand brushing close to mine
to set the rhymes racing off
like inmates that’ve tripped
the central security system
and are running like fuck-knows into the distance
the way thoughts might link
hex to text to the lesser-striped Baryonyx of the Early Cretaceous
who, with twice as many teeth
as its nearest relatives and a sharp angle
near the snout, could hold onto its prey
with twenty times the efficiency of the modern crocodile or shrike.
.............- Ben Wilkinson © 2009
Ben, do the poems in 'The Sparks' have a unifying principle? If so, can you describe what you were trying to achieve?
Hi Rob - good to be here on Surroundings. As my first pamphlet of poems, ‘The Sparks’ is intended as a taster of sorts: a selection of work that will hopefully interest readers. It draws on three or so years’ worth of poems – what myself and Roddy Lumsden, who edits the tall-lighthouse Pilot series, thought was my best stuff at the time. I tried to arrange it in such a way that if you’re not enjoying one poem, you might like the next. As such it doesn’t have much of a unifying principle, though certain themes, as they say, are recurrent. If anything unites the poems, it’s a general attempt to mix the everyday language I speak with the richer diction and syntax and semantic leaps that poetry allows for. That’s what I usually try to do – root poems in experience (whether something psychodramatised or fictional) then head off in a direction that when you look back, it’s from an unusual, and hopefully interesting, angle. I want any poem I write to finish somewhere quite different from where it started out. I don’t think that there’s any point sitting down to write a poem if you already know where it’s going to end up. It won’t be interesting to write and, chances are, it won’t be interesting to read either.
In ‘Hex’, tender imagery (‘surreptitious hand brushing close to mine’) is set alongside the narrator’s reflections on security systems and dinosaurs. There’s a (successful, to my mind) disconnection between what’s happening and what’s being thought. Did you have the surprising final image in mind when you began to write the poem, or did it emerge in the process of writing?
I hope that ‘Hex’ illustrates my answer to your first question. I had no idea when I started writing the poem that it would finish with a summary of the predatory nature of the Baryonyx, though I can see how if I’d had that image from the outset, I might’ve worked backwards from it. I actually started writing the poem from my immediate surroundings – a tiny, but not entirely charmless, one bedroom flat that I was living in at the time. Writing from what’s around you is often a one-way ticket to Boredom Central, but I hope that the rhyming leaps of ‘Hex’ justify its beginnings. It’s a poem about habitually creating links between things, whether through rhyme, metaphor, simile, analogy – a sort of magic that’s at the poet’s disposal given their acute awareness of it, but also something which can come to govern their way of thinking about the world. That's where the disconnection you mention comes in - a sort of 'zoning out', if you see what I mean. By the end of the poem, the narrator is left with the strange image of the Baryonyx sinking its teeth into its prey through nothing more than one thought leading into another. But by analogy, this far-flung image can still be linked to the narrator’s circumstances.
At the risk of sounding grand, we naturally finds ways to forge links between the most disparate and different things. It’s just an instinctive attempt to reconcile everything – something we all do, but that art in general has a particular tendency towards. At its best, with great writers and artists, it can produce an entirely fresh, credible and exciting perspective on something otherwise familiar. To my mind, it’s worth my carrying on writing poems in the hope that they might achieve that, one way or another.
You can order ‘The Sparks’ for £4 from tall-lighthouse at this link.