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John Wilkinson’s Down to Earth is his darkest work to date: a disturbing road poem of the American mid-West, an epic of migration, an examination of now-ubiquitous borders, and a meteorological tour of our growing energy crises. Global and internal flows of capital, consumer products, waste, labour and body parts all shape its contorted map of the 21st century.
Narrative poems echoing traditional forms, are intercut with damaged and damaging lyrics; these various styles have their analogues in the sculpture several passages praise and deprecate. In addition, Down to Earth incorporates an extended homage to Artemis of Ephasus.
Wilkinson’s book forms one single thematically-interrelated poem, and although its materials are bleak, the book’s caesura-driven prosody honours the hopes and courage of the people involved in mass migration and local struggles. Like every book by John Wilkinson, Down to Earth knows no limit to poetry’s ambition, dodging every border post, down every highway, like the ocelot running through its narratives, and struggling to create a sheltering place in often pitiless landscapes.
‘John Wilkinson’s Effigies Against the Light for its sheer verbal inventiveness and unheard-of melodies made much contemporary poetry seem straightforwardly pedestrian.’ —Adam Phillips, The Observer
‘Proud Flesh introduced us to the unexpected fluencies, the strange dramas and practicalities of John Wilkinson’s poetry. Reminding us that poetry also needs to be pitted against conventional forms of intelligibility – the finding of a ‘voice’, the satisfactions of narrative – Wilkinson was already writing a haunting, unheard of lyric poetry against the grain of the taught traditions. A startling and eerily accomplished book, Proud Flesh has become a great contemporary text.’ —Adam Phillips
‘John Wilkinson's taut, precise poems, in which lyric grace and ethical urgency move together but never comfortably mix, amount to one of the most significant bodies of work in contemporary poetry.’ —Patrick McGuinness
‘The speed of this writing, its kinetic movement “like a run-time virus”, derives from the extraordinary scope of its inclusions. This is not the low-risk inclusiveness of semiotic playtime, but the propagation of strings of significance among the resistant data of moment and location. Difficult of access, but no less difficult of egress, the poetry in this volume makes unflinching demands on the reader, demands that repay slowly but in abundance. Reader, I was crushed and exhilarated.’ —Jeremy Green, Chicago Review
‘John Wilkinson’s a powerful and intent poet whose language is densely charged with energy-traces: it’s rich with verbs, the sense of happenings, deeds, potentialities, necessities, results.’ —Roy Fisher