Here is Tom's review, written for Tony Lewis-Jones's Various Artists e-zine, and published within the last week.
There’s something immediately engaging about Wynn Wheldon’s poems. No matter that the book’s called ‘Private Places’ or that many of the poems in it do indeed stem from such privacy and from such places, Wheldon’s rhythmic strategies and easygoing tone are invitational. This is a world which – despite its various intimacies – he wants us to share, a world which, while he might have got it all wrong (as he does in the opening poem, ‘Language’), offers up some kind of meaning for all its casual cross-purposes.
At the heart of this collection is an adeptness with language, a felicity which can half-rhyme ‘funeral’ and ‘opal’ or ‘dull’ and ‘hall’ without drawing attention to itself and pulls off the kind of momentary linguistic wrong-footing that is, in the long run, more satisfying than any amount of metaphysical posturing. When, for example, did you last read a Faber poet open up with the ruefully laconic ‘Occasionally, I am adrift’? Or a sure-footed post-Heaney metafabulist start from ‘The cemetery ladies visit once a year/between cherry blossoms and forget-me-not’?
Life is, Wheldon seems to be saying, quite ordinary, but it is also something other, a morass of memories and associations, a shifting surface of stuff, some of which sticks and acquires value – whether that be the sunlit shape cast on a lover’s back or a group of canoeists from Birmingham who mysteriously disappear in what ‘the English call Hell’s Mouth’ – and some of which simply leaks away into anonymity. The poet’s job – if he or she has one – is to salvage what they can from the wreckage, isolating moments from an endless flow and then finding the words that might just fix them into some kind of frame, some kind of posterity. That Wheldon’s poems are almost always only provisional is perhaps also part of their appeal. They are investigative, non-definitive at their most seemingly definitive and rueful where they might well have been bitter. In ‘Air Ambulance’, for example, he stands in Green Park and watches while some kind of medical emergency is evacuated, reflecting on ‘a woman loved long ago’, before asking ‘So what’ve I done? Stopped smoking’ and taking a step back with ‘The richness of youth is spent in living.’
Published in the likes of The Rialto and The Spectator, Wheldon is a poet worth reading. His approach, perhaps, may be out of fashion, but when did that ever matter? ‘Private Places’ is a book whose privacy opens out in a myriad directions.
Poems start, in other words, with the seemingly random – ‘I liked the shape of the lawnmower’ begins one – before shifting gear and tying in to some kind of history, whether familial and domestic or big and public. The shapely lawnmower, for example, yields up an image of Wheldon’s father ‘Breasting into now, alive’, while ‘some punk singer’ lunging at the poet with ‘a pair of garden shears’ in ‘A Bit of a Myth’ nails the punk rock 1970s into an adolescent rites of passage. And what, Wheldon asks, would Catullus or Martial have made of ‘the electric erotic’, 21st-century digital porn seen through the eyes of lubricious Roman satirists?
'Private Places' is available from Amazon, but also - and preferably - from indigodreamsbookshop.com/#/wynn-wheldon/4590544259