Way More Than Luck is the vivid debut collection from the well-known young poet and critic Ben Wilkinson. The book opens with a series of poems that, with a remarkable clarity and sympathy, recall a battle with clinical depression: the “days when you weren’t anyone. Days gone undercover...”. The author interrogates this malady: “two-parts sadness, one-part anger”, grapples to understand that its sources are both personal and cultural. It soon emerges that competitive running, which possibly starts as therapy, a means of combat, becomes a way of life, not just for fitness but for the long-haul, for endurance. The poet finds a still, calm centre: “Running is the pure solitude of a wordless hour.”
The collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to the legends of Liverpool Football Club. With characteristic self-deprecation Wilkinson calls this section ‘An Ordinary Game’ and kicks things off with the Bill Shankly quote: “What a great day for football. All we need is some green grass and a ball.” In various inventive forms that echo the characters they celebrate or decry, the author finds in football an apt field for human display. Bruce Grobbelaar shoots a ball straight at the ref’s face; old-school Billy Liddell still inspires hymns in the stands; Stevie Gerrard is the soul of “grit”; the “dancing shadow”of John Barnes endures racism: “dark slurs circle the stands”; Fernando Torres is a latter-day Icarus. These poems recapture both the childish wonder of the young fan and the die-hard faith of adult fans undefeated by cynicism or rain.
The final section, ‘An Absurd Pastime’, contains more occasional poems, about the writing life, both the graft of the craft and the petty indignities of performance as in ‘You Must Be Joking’ where a comedian must, by the brutal trial and error of stand-up, discover the means to laughter. Here, there are also poems about dreams, fraught with strange vertigo. There are also a number of tenderly hesitant love poems. There is an enjoyably vicious satire of the anodyne non-promises of a conservative party speech. Most notably, many poems in this collection are in artfully invisible poetic forms. Their rhymes and repetitions are wonderfully woven to suit content and expression. Way More Than Luck is a beautifully serious debut by a more-than-promising young author, Ben Wilkinson.
Published Feb 2018