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Friday, 4 May 2007

Poem by Jeffrey Wainwright

Eyewear is very pleased to be able to welcome Jeffrey Wainwright, pictured, a favourite poet of mine.

His Selected Poems (1985), The Red-Headed Pupil (1994) and Out of the Air (1999) are published by Carcanet. Wainwright has translated plays by PĆ©guy, Claudel, and Corneille. He editeda most useful and informative book on the purposes and styles of poetry, Poetry the Basics, published by Routledge in 2004. I use it often in the classroom.

His book Acceptable Words: Essays on the Poetry of Geoffrey Hill was published by Manchester University Press in 2006. Carcanet will publish his new collection, Clarity or Death! in 2008. He is Professor in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University and teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

I first came across Wainwright's work in the now-classic Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse, edited by Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison, which was published in 1982 (25 years ago, now). That work introduced a whole new generation of postmodern "British" poets to the canon. His poem "1815" seemed to me to bring a very original tone into poetry, and has always stayed with me, for its concision, moral force, and terse imagery.

[As an aside, one hopes Penguin has plans for a new anthology, perhaps timed for 2012, to bring general readers up to date, and continue their history of producing striking, controversial anthologies from time to time.]


The Dead Come Back

The dead come back to us in dreams –
As we are told they do so they come.

Thus among the tablecloths and cakes,
The ham and sliced tongue and all the objects
Of this earth,
The company known and unknown at this latest funeral,
Lily, large and powdered in her flowery dress
Appears to her brothers and all of us
Like a star, a celebrity back among her own,
Nearly a sister again, nearly an aunt,
All of us parting for her, shy of touching
What we have brought to mind.

Unable as we are to die,
The dead come back to us in dreams –
As we are told they do, so they come.


Poem by Jeffrey Wainwright from Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1985);
reprinted with kind permission of the author.

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