This review is taken from Stand 214, 15(2) August - October 2017.

Jeffrey Wainwright, What Must Happen (Carcanet, 2016)

Jeffrey Wainwright has found a powerful way of combining philosophical speculation with sensuous immediacy. This was apparent in his two previous collections – Clarity or Death! (2008) and The Reasoner (2012) – and he continues in this rich lyric vein in What Must Happen. At the start of his career, in his 1970 pamphlet The Important Man, he might rightly have been defined as a poet of the historical imagination. His poetry frequently reminds us, however, that to engage with history necessitates being properly attentive to the present. In Wainwright’s work this often stems from his engagement with the process – and what might sometimes be the surprising and estranging presence – of our consciousness. This also makes him particularly attentive to what otherwise passes as the utterly ordinary in the face of the dominant historical record. As with his last two collections, then, What Must Happen finds him demonstrating a wonderful facility for ruminating in the moment about the passing of time, a creative musing which includes not just the past, but the present and the future – including the afterlife.

This intense engagement with the passage of time and our appreciation of its workings lends itself well not just to lyric poetry generally, but to elegy in particular. And there are some movingly elegiac poems in this latest collection, most particularly ‘To J. D.’ which repeats across its ten stanzas the refrain ‘My dear friend, where are you now?’. This refrain begins ...
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image