For Real (Smith/Doorstep, 2014) is Ben Wilkinson's second pamphlet. As such, it's useful to view it in the light of his first one, The Sparks, which was published by tall lighthouse in 2008. The Sparks was an excellent chapbook. I reviewed it very positively on Rogue Strands at the time, but Wlkinson's made further strides since then. Six years ago, the blurb on the back cover mentioned "neat and clever poems", which they were. However, they were also slightly guarded, dancing round an inner core that never quite dared to reveal itself. The verse in For Real, meanwhile, is braver and hugely authentic.
One such example is "Hound", a poem that surges with the passion that's required to fight cyclical depression:
"its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again."
This is poetry that bares its heart, not for the sake of confession or self-gratification, but for transforming qualities that are capable of moving its reader.
And what about that title? Well, it works in criss-crossing ways. Of course, Wilkinson uses concrete settings and events as a point of departure, but the everyday is then bounced off the concave mirrors of dreams and nightmares. They are invoked in four poems, implicitly wondering just what is For Real and inviting us to ask that very same question.
What's more, dreams enable Wilkinson to make leaps. He jumps back and forth between realities until the poems reach their final effect, as in "The River Don". Physical and emotional floodwaters lap around the poem's words in both sleep and waking hours until...
sat safe and sound - floors dry, photo frames still
something else edging closer, the way water will."
Reading back through this review, I realise I might have given the mistaken impression that For Real is tough going. Well, it's far from that. In fact, sorrow and struggle are laced with passion and optimism, as is perfectly illustrated by its gorgeous closing lines. I'll end with them too...
"Let's say it was. Let's say all we felt
stood there, all we've held off. Let's walk
through that door, love, and never look back."
Oh, and just to add that you can purchase a copy of For Real by following the link here.
Derek Walcott, poet and playwright of Saint Lucia, died on 17 March at the age of 87. I think I recall my first Derek Walcott poem. It was 'The Season o...