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Clarity or Death!
Categories: 21st Century
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (64 pages)
(Pub. Jul 2008)
In Mr Cooksey’s Technical Drawing class dots would never do.
Joining up two soft-pencil puddles of lead
will get you from where to where?
and if your line is a stubby 5B thick,
a dimension we can see never mind dust-mites with their wagon-trains,
where has it arrived?
from ‘a point is never alone’
‘I wish to God that I were more intelligent and everything would finally become clear to me – or else that I didn’t live much longer!’ Clarity or Death! takes its title from this letter of Wittgenstein’s. That desire for clarity in our knowledge of the world, the universe and ourselves is the linking preoccupation of Jeffrey Wainwright’s collection. Five poems develop the physicist Richard Feynman’s proposition that through scientific study ‘we may be able to reduce the number of different things’. Others ponder infinity and number; the 39-poem sequence ‘Mere Bagatelle’ explores the philosopher Jerry Fodor’s assertion that ours is a world ‘that isn’t for anything, a world that is just there’, yet one he can still call ‘austere, tragic, alienated and supremely beautiful’.
These poems are both playful and intellectually rigorous, exploring not only ideas but the experience of having and articulating them. They play alongside other aspects of personal experience. Central to Wainwright’s writing is a fascination with what Wallace Stevens called ‘the uncertain light of single, certain truth’, an uncertain light embodied in the sensuousness of language given poetic form.
Cover image Leonid Lerman, Censor, 2002. Cover design by Stephen Raw.
Awards won by Jeffrey Wainwright Short-listed, 2017 Arnold Bennett Book Prize (What Must Happen )
Praise for Jeffrey Wainwright
Ben Ray, Oxford Review of Books
'As Best We Can is a defining poetic moment of 2020.''There are some lovely individual poems here, like 'Spring Walk', 'Seascape' and 'The Window-Ledge'. But best are the poems of loss and change, about growing up in the Potteries after the War'
Steve Whittaker, Yorkshire Times
Andy Croft, The Morning Star
'Many of these quiet poems have a disproportionately unsettling effect... This is work that comes from slow attention, proper effort and commitment to understanding.'
Steve Hanson, Manchester Review of Books
'What Must Happen is at once a lyrical meditation on the nature of history and on ourselves as perceiving subjects in a world of objects and other species. It ranges confidently across different geographies and societies from working lives in Josiah Wedgewood's Etruria in the Potteries to the example of the Eternals: Jupiter, Venus, and Apollo. Combining sinuous intelligence with humanity and compassion, Jeffrey Wainwright's latest collection puts him at the forefront of contemporary English poets.'
'Jeffrey Wainwright's work is among the most interesting of any poet now writing'
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