June 23, 2022

John Wilkinson (England) 1953

John Wilkinson (England)



John Wilkinson was born in London, England; he grew up on the Cornish coast and on Dartmoor and endured a number of boarding schools. He read English at Cambridge, followed by graduate work at Cambridge and Harvard universities. Subsequently he trained as a psychiatric nurse and worked as a nurse, social worker and service manager in and around Birmingham, England, before moving to Swansea in South Wales as a lecturer in mental health. Thereafter he worked in the East End of London as a commissioner of mental health services, an assistant director of public health and a mental health strategic planner, while living for the most part in Cambridge.

     In 2005 he moved to the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, as Poet in Residence at the Keough Institute for Irish Studies, and teaches both literature and creative writing for the English department. He is married to Maud Ellmann, an academic and literary critic.

     Most of Wilkinson’s poetry has been collected in five volumes: Oort’s Cloud, Proud Flesh, Flung Clear, Effigies Against the Light and Contrivances. His newer collections incldue Lake Shore Drive, published by Salt in 2006, Down to Earth (2008), and Reckitt’s Blue (2013). He has published many reviews and essays on poetics.

     Wilkinson’s grants and awards include the Chancellor’s Medal for an English Poem at Cambridge University, the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship at Harvard University and recently a Fulbright Distinguished Scholarship at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, New York in 2003-4. ‘The Shoal of the Ditto Ship’ was written during this last period when living in Manhattan, and was influenced by an exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum of the work of Adolph Wölfi.                                                                                                                                                                   John Wilkinson’s work has been discussed as Cambridge poetry, Birmingham poetry and recently as Welsh poetry. This publication marks its debut as American poetry. Meanwhile he is pleased to be an honorary Irishman at the Keough, and looks forward to further identities.





Useful Reforms (Richmond, Surrey, England: Arnica Press, 1976); Aquamarie (Cambridge, England: Avocado Salad, 1976); The Central Line (Cambridge, England: infernal methods, 1976); Tracts of the Country (London: Oasis Books, 1977); Pornography (Cambridge, England: Sidon Industrial, 1977); Recent History (London and Southampton: infernal methods, 1978); Mudie’s Umbrella (Horsham, Sussex, England: The Cuseway Press, 1978); Clinical Notes (Liverpool: Délires, 1980); Proud Flesh (Liverpool: Equofinaly, Łodz, and Délires: Liverpool, 1986 / reprinted by Great Wilbraham: Salt Publisher, 2005); Bones of Contention (Kenilworth, England: Prest Roots, 1988); The Speaking Twins (Peterborough: Spectacular Diseases, 1990); Stages Along the Lichway (Lewes, England: Silver Hounds/Ferry Press, 1991); The Nile (Cambridge, England: Equipage, 1992); Torn off a Strip (Cambridge, English, 1994); Chalone (Kenilworth, England: Prest Roots, 1994); Flung Clear: Poems in Six Books (Brighton: Parataxis Editions, 1994); Sarn Helen (Cambridge, England: Equipage, 1997); Reverses (Cambridge, England: 1999); Oort’s Could, Earlier Poems (Cambridge, England: Barque Press and Honolulu: subpress, 1999); Effigies Against the Light (Great Wilbraham, England: Salt Publishing, 2001); Signs of an Intruder (Cambridge, England: Parataxis Editions, 2001); Contrivances (Great Wilbraham, England: Salt Publishing, 2003); Iphigenia (London: Barque Press, 2004); Lake Shore Drive (Great Wilbraham, England Salt Publisher, 2006); Down to Earth (2008); Reckitt’s Blue (2013)


╬Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English




The Shoal of the Ditto Ship

for Miles Champion


One day he'll wake with wings


Or fixed gaze in vitro intro-

spects, centipeded they get tied

up through reefs, or riffing

smattered off the obtuse bulk

cast away legless, their cousin

vaguely wagged, illuminated

pillows of puff, much touch

dodges being dwelt-on or

arrived-at Must I peel or empty?

Teflon Ted Whatever you say

dangles like a benediction.

Twinkletoes, your scarlessness

locks the scarlet under skin,

as shame were that shame

brought up to its own mark,

then all is trussed & shut,

sealed off like a marshmallow

butterfingered bare choir. Reef

Tom to arrive at certainty,

veer not, shy off or scatter,

vent not the stacks imbibing

vapour sustenance, would

these package deal finickers

down within the voided grates,

cap them, since their terminus,

playing to their divisions,

plugs the too-routine leaks.

This mush dons his quizzical,

this plate gurns, Robert this

Meissen figure, peregrinating

slashes in my baked Alaska,

periodic or wedge flume

carbon remnant, primus inter

pares cloaks in citizenship

Coney Island Russian taxi,

Chinese pin-pursed laundress

TriBeCa Bridge? Your ID!

The order stops the tracks of

fleet Helvetians, Swiss pixies

mobilising legs with dream,

discourage cramp, patch nerves

euplastically, re-set their bones.

Leaning from her saddle, wee

Titania can bestow a blessing,

dabbing dry the dropsical,

easing crooks if struck rigid,

draws down the flues, follows

into the cold-box or cream

bowl, horseflies in harness

tugging behind The Upsetter.

Clip Clop Clippity Clippity Hi:

deer tics bring lime disease,

mosquitoes siphon West Nile.

Clip Clop Clippity Clippity Hi:

fireflies bale their thistledown

bolsters, mop up leftovers,

squall bruising cloud edges,

cobalt-skirt their huff & puff

flushes chimneys, vaccinates

household staff, hauls along

Maria, Li, Primrose, Naomi,

Sam¹s personal trainer, kids

at school you were dwarfed by

were shaken by a choice phrase

filling a salience landscape;

penguins of your cloud buttes,

behind-the-arras prompters

cracking their tush knuckles

shrink flaunted words to size,

bearing up too-complicated

knees in alcoves, squinnying

heaps of bone, a coffin clutch

of gladsome bone mounted

on his pillow, femurs guide

the galumphing litho press

mashing its diacritical trickle.

Girl you really got me now

You got me so I can't die.

The ravenous ghosts constrict

thin pipes with sucking-up,

craving eats from his big toe

looming over a fire-ant army

O fallen arches O articulacy!

a kick in the hand stubs a bush,

fiddle-faddle strewn-about

pudency stamp. You're too rude

you rake, you fop, you mohawk,

you with your fab nose-bone.

Luke reeling at such vileness,

stashes books on a hearthstone

overnight, in hemp baloney,

cleans up his act & itemises:

Gilgamesh perks up on cue,

Ulysses as per usual curious,

Malmude packing his boxes

for the proverbial little press.

The inner cerecloth shrinks

chaldean, root-fanned stylus

pokes into these roe deposits,

gripped in icy fingers ticks

micro-level duplicates How

can they endure the light,

these vulnerable figures? How

did glaciers wobble like airships?

chains pup a consequence?

leave no stain on its envelope?

misfolded, misfolded, proof

against tears, against semen,

paid in full but fallen short,

capturing a torpid substrate

prickling where the low cloud

muzzles against their moss-

sopped cocoons against the sky,

misfolded to indestructibility,

glitching up the brain stem.

None of the above applies

None of the above follows

without receptor sites signal

strapping their cuneiform,

vaporise through mesh, honey

welling between their wires,

evenly eventless dropper filled

but long in the tooth, bony,

scribbled like a slut tornado

searches for its porch & picket.

Do I see Johnny Appleseed?

Was that my casual gunslinger

reels on the deck with kuru,

holding forth & misfolded,

sought to expiate his triggers,

triggers of the small mercies?

A novel variant stirs the rank

antibodies, you must be you,

snails, smearing, butt-naked,

visibly, despicably ambitious,

hauls over the icecap its satchel

stuffed with props to scale

Just add water, quietly steam

while the felt thickens, furs,

buckles in intelligent tucks

promise you'll look beautiful,

promise an eyeful gratifies

Scottie's scopophilia, minions

crushed by the saint system,

stripped by Lilliputians,

bring me my Negroni, swoosh!

Clouds mouth a new dawn,

records skate, a sumptuous

troop, refolding tallied initials,

promenades across the whole-

earth mercator. Avenue A

clouds gush vodka, vivid

pangs chase after shredded fish,

roast guinea pigs & tripe:

Felipe, I'll have your selection,

the polymerised sweet cells

defend their right to adapt!

animate the dynastic pods,

leprechauns, a flea circus

climbing a prandial trapeze,

ribbons & spirals, lamellae,

locusts & the leaf-cutter ants,

defend their right to adapt!

Slurping at dab nectar, woozy

comforters fall, denied access

by these fibrous bunches

spongiform at base hey,

you trying to stick your nose

Know what's coming to you?

Say you pass the horseradish

clockwise while at home?

Insolent to waiters? Get lost!

Ouch! ouch! An apt little hound

rounds up misdeeds in flocks,

water thickens with tadpole-

dense performances, frogs

are hopping on marked paths.

Leander swims, Meander strays,

the very trout who gasped

for oxygen in a stock-pond,

wallow on the sludgy floor.

Clip Clop Clippity Clippity Hi

puts spurs into the cladogram,

dispersing those top dogs

long solitude had made weird

Like a lemur. Or a marsupial

frolics onto a new reserve,

a positive fit, a vacuum seal,

a win-win trade. So why do

shrunken heads find boughs

peeking out of the manholes,

did crowbars & indigenes

blow the cover rising to cover

the cover I cover myself,

unscarred cover with scarlet,

steal the proto-immersible,

insinuate this endoscope?

authorise the brain scan?

I was a rush of released mice,

roaches from under the sink

advancing through Sullivan St,

milling towards a hot ticket

cupcake, where¹s Vesuvio?

That brass tocsin animates

the grave-figures, bony fringe

defiling out, nano-machines

rafting the capillaries, rush

to rows appointed, terror tots

pullulate in their gung ho.

Bees swarm from Broadway.

Michelangelo. Minihaha. Blink.

Pictures of matchstick men

& me & me & me. Ticklish

midget submariners giggle.

Fireflies whirr. The pestilent

cockchafers, shrunk to tiny

whisks gad round the sewers,

household gods gape & gulp,

emulsify where sore necks &

sumps lift up their gates, O

helicobacters mass in the gut

like Apocalypse Next. Meet

Princess Bianca. Magdalehna.

Cut. Shut this trap, mother.

Consider the hands shake.

Consider this shaking hand.

Mine re-strap, thought-over,

others pull in adverse ranks,

some more habit-spatulate

from days & nights tunnelling,

skirted round or blew apart,

screwed sinuses or undercut:

these subverting their class,

that dumbcluck I had drabbled

lurking to buttonhole me,

came bushy-tailed if whistled

forward, wrenching my lapels,

brought all kinds of baggage.

Palsied hands. Featherbrain.

Chills, cracks. Frost ossuary

Dark place where seven roads

resurfaced. Kiln. Or broiler.

I am the god of hell's cold

fracturing the shut-down

grate, lithium console calms,

smoke like an iced margarita

quenched the chimney roar,

their camisole stood legless,

bones laid out to feed the fire

devastated, sparked a sub-

zero disaster, frozen gushers

flaring back to cloud cover,

flaring round the polar vault,

snapped in a cold clamshell:

splintered were its runnels

lifting swollen tongues. Over

the hearth's slate, jumbled

quartz plectrums, carved ivory,

burnt corks, pipe dottle of

gone companions, vagabonds,

boozed, spat, freely caroused

below the roof-tree, DNA-

analysed chattels, bony shards,

shades of powerful clothing,

room is right, curse in order,

amulet & gold brooch check,

your details have been verified.

To such a desecrated altar

decorators prance, slubbing

plaster over the pancreator,

fret walls in pernickety grids,

crematorium pigeon holes:

To this end, to this zilch,

the great cheese, the sponge,

a destroyed coral collective

petrifies anew its every unit

incubates local pathogens:

Clip Clop Clippity Clippity Hi/

egg cartons hatch by module,

sash windows rattle tinnily,

sheets of cellular wax bulge

each with a miniature nob

thrust half-way out, squishy,

pinky-grey & ready to slide

about its tumefacient work

going down to alphabet street,

white boys cruising sidewalks

jut their hips, the parasites,

dark shadees, parodies, trans-

formers, topers, those fore-

runners snacking on decoded

Pekinese, Peruvian bites,

Babylon perchance or Sumer

Check their chiselled teeth.

Verify the funerary figures,

terracotta sightless, armless,

faceless comedia of excess,

the whole shebang, the circus

marches out of a mausoleum:

Here the autobots shall dock,

senseless, gold-connected, clad

in memory-woven denim,

dishes bright, whips aquiver,

scout above eye-level, sweep.

Here advance the autobots,

exiled from a bright matrix,

gathered in choice skin, dis-

avowed but in chameleon

lock with the old regiment

spirting gravel, grating nerves,

crank till a cylinder aligns,

wriggle on prepared sheaths.

I, I'm just a little tin soldier.

Walkin' talkin' livin' plug.

Needles & pins. Neologisms.

A mensch on a bender, Jack

on an even keel, shameless,

shambling like an autobiotic

through a fuckpad boneyard,

remedied in shreds & patches

burns out of the marrow.

You, Scarbo! You, Ondine!

Consuela, mollusc was your

foul mouth & your kindness

jabbering on my private bits,

Augustus, your melodica

ricochets but courses through

the massive resistant sheets,

Moran, the night has no parts,

that's because you're asleep,

the fate of the crew of the

Alioth waits to be disclosed,

shaken from its bubble tissue,

seraphic heads blow shanties

smart as paint, & briskly

shine their epaulettes, medals

paving their hearts, crunch!

splinter under the die-stamp,

suborned swords of elves

hack vehemently where fringe

solder, shaving the spilt tin,

palsies down like beer-tops.

Panda-eyed the cherubs blub

all over semi-demi-hemis,

tonsured bobble heads each

sailor hallmarked with his year,

circular scrolling calendar

predicts little volcanoes, shock-

wave oceans & the hesperides,

blue cascades of numerology

sluicing over the span, men

& women cropped & slotted

each in her cellular conclave,

the way we expect love to be,

reverberates, a leaden cavalry

decorated, bodhisattvas,

pure land guardians practice

circular breathing, lit mandala

starts spinning, its imp-chain

of blue bone, sore distended

stomachs & necks squeeze,

battering fans like cockchafers,

whirring gods. Bones, dust,

millipedes in a single cohort,

amulets endowed with multi-

access, nub-end top-knot

yogic flights rehearse, sponsor

an ethereal choir of gnats:

Clip Clop Clippity Clippity Hi,

the clog dance of caterpillars

avid for internal burn & crawl.

Of heldness and of caresses you

have become the entrepreneur.

Inside me was this longing

which did not belong. Nests

of beetles stir, jewel-like frogs.



Reprinted from Free Verse, no. 8 (Spring 2005). Copyright ©2005 by John Wilkinson.


To read Wilkinson's Gertrude Stein award poem from 2008-2009, click below:


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