Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sparks

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the word 'magic' in this context ... at best, the poem accurately conveys the associative intrusions in an individual suffering from schizophrenia or, perhaps, schizoaffective disorder; at worst, a sort of sad, blokeish retreat into autistic solipsism when confronted by an opportunity for intimate, honest, non-verbal response.


Ben Wilkinson said...

Well, the ideas behind this poem didn’t translate very well if that’s what you take from it. All I can really say to that is that although I was never sure where the poem was going to end up, I certainly had the initial, central idea of writing about where poems might come from; how the mind latches onto ideas (as much in everyday life as when sat at the desk writing) and runs with them. Or at least that’s what I’d hoped to address - how poems, or clusters of words or whatever bits that might end up making up poems, develop in the mind and are stumbled upon. I certainly didn’t want to suggest that the poem’s narrator greatly suffered in thinking these thoughts, or that they occurred with any uncontrollable regularity. Or, really, that the narrator was neglectful of meaningful, intimate interaction with others in favour of entertaining these ideas, though perhaps that is a sometime effect of writing poetry ‘seriously’, particularly in periods of intense productivity.

I can see how the poem might come across as solipsistic though. (Perhaps even autistic, as you suggest, though I’m not quite sure where you’ve got the schizophrenic elements from). But then I suspect that there isn’t much I can say to sway you from your interpretation of the poem, and that’s fair enough. As an antidote, then, perhaps ‘Ordinary’, also included in the pamphlet, might be of interest. Link to it’s below.

Rob said...

Interesting from both of you, Andy and Ben.

I liked the poem because it seemed to me quite disconcerting. There's a jolt after the brush of the woman's hand. I'd expect some kind of response - of tenderness, say - but the narrator is somewhere else entirely. His mind rushes from image to image and the final image is quite sinister. I felt it was an subconscious image of possession. He doesn't feel anything for her, but will keep his grip on her anyway...

Anonymous said...

I get schizoaffective disorder from the evidence of clang associations (connections between thoughts which are dictated by word-sound rather than meaning) and seemingly compulsive rhyming, both of which are good indicators of thought disorder and thus psychosis. Or being Paul Muldoon.

Either way, it's being presented as something admirable, playful even; I can only say that I don't respond to this sort of character in that way. Just feel rather sorry for them and wonder what's wrong. There's something distasteful about it, almost. That's not a failure of translation or intent in the poem, just a different view of these things.

The Baryonyx and sex thing ... let's not go there.


Anonymous said...

Too much to discuss here, but this kind of thing:

The 'release of internal pressure' is perhaps interesting, as it relates to anxiety.


Anonymous said...


I've read a few efforts and have to say, several combinations and clusters conveyed some general idea, thought-picture and weigh-in narrational beings, that had me free-associating like mad, about narrational ditties that under-grow in the weight of their own normality of striving sometimes - too much to be pants.

These days, the way a mind works, when it is toe to toe, side-by-side with crazee morning afters, in a bedroom gig of success-cum disaster kinda carry on: no more than a word it takes, to number what rhyme surreptitiously racing off, brushes close to a hand behind the mind between narratrr-inmates of the mind, betwixed that central security system of soul, running one's fuck-knows what, into the thought of really wierd existance.

The way light might mix distance, linking the succesful text with a lesser-striped crocodile, in Bar Onyx black, early Cretans with twice as many teeth, might nearest snout the relative efficiency of, that sharp limbered dart of modern angles, near to what prayer twenty times cried, y'all shreaked like, really really meaningful. Neglect deriliction of intimate interjections, short stir of unactionable ideas, entertaining, sometimes effectively in and of the moment, with the writing of verse, post haste in reverse say, apprehending what particulars are productively dead-on periods of intense, incredible ordinariness of what a one way thicket to no return, led him to become mon ame, made the same as Simon said, who makes breathe freely as his staunchest living rock - yeah - tame warm sense in place and periods of semi, comma and colls. nuts within that sweet breathed us upon a bank in violent skit, safely performed, as a Conceptual poem, the honours course one must process before the five gears come and the owl hoots, tu-wit tu-wooing in balancing slag: not the polite foolish birds who praised a narrtor's pad, four bud and ten vod 'n tons, smashed heads and moody winning chums all done, pooped 'ponly, in shag.