Full Stretch: Poems 1996–2006 by Anthony Wilson
Worple Press, £10
Review by Nathan Thompson
Anthony Wilson’s poetry is often quiet, gentle even, and it’s always well-wrought. That’s not meant to be pejorative, or to damn with faint praise. Reading this Selected Poems is like listening to someone with a really beautiful voice who, even in the most perilous circumstances, always speaks in perfectly constructed sentences. But there are more surprises here than that description implies. Let’s start with the quiet and gentle though. Wilson describes the day-to-day with a sharp eye and an easy-going, readable style:
A man is laying crates of bread,
one on top of the other,
in the boot of a waiting car.
The newspaper boy wobbles on his bike.
This is deftly economical writing. No word is extraneous. Adjectives are used sparingly and linguistic dexterity is never an end in itself, though clearly Anthony Wilson possesses it in bundles:
And I have seen dust collect under their beds, there is nothing
I can do to prevent it, visions of gin, gallons of it, before breakfast,
incomprehensible gobbledegook of Tommee Tippee instructions,
Tixylix, dawn-light of Calpol, poignancy of vests in their packets,
blockage of buggies in swing doors,
and heartbreak of stories by the fire,
Sometimes, as here, there’s almost the rhythmic Anglo-Saxon consonant banging of early Ted Hughes, though in a quite different, domestic, setting. Allied to this is an occasional Larkin-like bleakness of tone, an urban ennui:
Preferring not to talk we notice
How uneven the body is
in sleep and lie and listen to thoughts
which have no hope of finding voice,
even in these moments
after love, after everything is done, less tense.
Outside the clouds are vacant, lost,
(from "After Love")
Wilson’s pithy expressiveness makes “Full Stretch” compelling in a way which surprised me. It’s not the sort of book I’d normally get excited about, the sort that would force me to keep reading. The collections that have really grabbed me recently have been those by, for example Vahni Capildeo, William Fuller, Andy Brown, Susan Schultz, Rupert Loydell, M.T.C. Cronin and Elizabeth Robinson (that’s enough now: you get the idea); all writers with clear intentions to push ‘the boundaries’, whatever they are, in order to find new modes of expression and (dare I make reference to content; Christ, I’ll be sacked) new things to express. This is different. It’s a quiet book technically, and Wilson seems content to work within existing parameters. So I admit when I picked up “Full Stretch” it didn’t feel like my cup of tea (it doesn’t have a handle and flowers and say ‘Nathan’ on it, and I haven’t forgotten to put the milk in or boil the water, and anyway I don’t drink tea) but I found I was reading poem after poem, simply enjoying the fluency of the writing and Wilson’s apparent ease of communication, something he shares with our own Mr. Stannard, of whom I was reminded by ‘Time’:
05:00 hours is bad and anything with a three in it,
for example 03:13. Those times between 02:00 and 04:00
are crippling for the next day’s decisions as are those times
on a Sunday and most times during the ravages of February.
Unspeakable times include 04:59 and 01:07 – but for some reason
05: 58 is not a bad time, unlike its cousins 01:58 and 02: 58
who are total buggers and always will be. Among the joke-times
are anything before midnight, the lucid times just after midnight
and those just after making love, with sleep approaching.
That’s just great as far as I’m concerned: it’s poignant, intelligent and funny and you can’t ask for much more from a poem. Well, I suppose you can but maybe you shouldn’t, at least, not always.
© Nathan Thompson, 2007