From 19-26 June 2021, thanks to the generosity of the Wordsworth family and the Curators, Kieron Winn was the first poet in residence at Rydal Mount in the Lake District since Wordsworth’s time. A video of the poetry reading he gave is here.
His first book of poems, The Mortal Man, was published on 5 August 2015 by Howtown Press, and may be purchased via the link at the foot of this page.
‘Kieron Winn’s long-awaited first collection is wide-ranging and memorable; his technical expertise matches a spirit of reverence and celebration…Many of the poems had me thinking of Larkin…[a] superb collection’.
Peter Carpenter, Agenda (see below for the complete review)
‘The level of craft in these poems is a delight.’ Clive James
‘I have had much pleasure reading the poems…a real talent for binding centuries together…additions to the great Lake District tradition.’ Melvyn Bragg
Christopher Ricks, introducing Kieron Winn at a reading:
‘A very good poet indeed…a poet to whom Wordsworth matters a very great deal…the Wordsworth who writes of “An ordinary sorrow of man’s life” and the Wordsworth who writes of “joy in widest commonalty spread”.’
‘the poems are mainly vehicles for tenderness…warmth and intensity are achieved with less recourse to Martian defamiliarization than to Movement restraint, but also remind one of Baudelaire’.
N. S. Thompson, The Times Literary Supplement
‘one of the best formal poets in the UK’ – A. M. Juster
‘It is rare to find poems that are as elegant and moving as these are.’ Edward Mendelson
‘tender, observant elegance, thoughtful precision and emotional depths, combined with expert technique in handling traditional form and metre in fresh ways.’ Duncan Forbes
‘His poems are truly resonant: musical with the best sort of judgement, visual “in brilliant definition”, humorous and deep, spiritually sharpening and gentling.’ Andrew Wynn Owen
‘unafraid of the big subjects…His poems make me think of Yeats’s marvellous phrase in “Byzantium”: “marbles of the dancing floor”, that image of freezing whirling life, at its pulsing moment, into a lasting form.’ Lyndall Gordon
‘Kieron Winn’s poems have the unmistakable ring of the real thing. And once they have got to you, you never forget their combination of exact emotion with perfect form.’ Bernard O’Donoghue
‘a specific (and rare) gift that I admired throughout the book – a sort of genius for the final line.’ Dana Gioia (quoted with permission from a letter)
Complete review by Peter Carpenter from Agenda:
Kieron Winn’s long-awaited first collection is wide-ranging and memorable; his technical expertise matches a spirit of reverence and celebration. It is meticulous yet unfussy. Winn moves with equal ease and control from the contemplation of aesthetics, to Hopkinsesque epiphanies in response to the natural world, to unlikely, moving, or sometimes achingly funny parodies and pastiches. The most obvious customer here is ‘Heaney’s First Collaboration with Eminem’, itself a beautifully turned sonnet, that contains lines in response to Heaney’s ‘Bog Poems’, which make Geoffrey Hill’s meeting with rap in Speech! Speech! look like ’prentice work. Here is a couplet, but go seek the whole thing:
Met a man from Grauballe who’d pissed his tribe off
And brought back the springtime allegedly (cough).
The assimilations of the diction and tonal inflections of other forebears such as T. S. Eliot and Wordsworth are subtler and the mark of a poet who has by heart their rhythms and preoccupations. Winn is a terrific portrait-painter. Go to the vignette of Eliot ‘In Lausanne’, or the poet in later years in Bermuda; take the latter’s wonderful subdued allusion to the mermaids and the ‘pair of ragged claws’ of ‘Prufrock’:
Swimming, as ever, helps with all my ailments.
My tender wife is singing in the bedroom.
I have become a classic. I look at my book
And contemplate changing the species of a crab.
Many other poems are intensely moving: Winn’s love poems are understated and all the more powerful for that (these include ‘Walking With You’ and ‘Lost in Rome’, the latter with its veiled homage to Donne’s ‘Ecstasie’). The glimpses of domestic scenes and family backgrounds are finely-tuned and poignant (as in ‘First Photo’ and ‘In the National Gallery’, for example). Winn eschews the confessional mode; his poetics are more in tune with the notion of impersonality fostered by T. S. Eliot. This does not make the poems the product of a ‘cold eye’; the reverse is true: the use of traditional forms lends a sense of control to reckoning the turbulence of ‘powerful emotions’. What Winn manages time and again is to return to a spot of time and revivify, whatever the subject matter of the poems (love, at-one-ness with the natural world, a humble Banda machine, reckonings between Art and Life). He is somehow both romantic in spirit and modernist in learning. Many of the poems had me thinking of Larkin, not the mistaken caricature of a miserabilist, but the chronicler of the ‘strength and pain of being young’, and of beauty under duress in this world of ours. At the heart of Winn’s superb collection lies a fascination with the nature of what has gone, with the tugs of memory and a corresponding urge to preserve, following intense and sustained work with his material, language:
I cannot bring a bucket of rock-pool creatures
And have him beam at me and understand,
But it dies hard, wanting someone to say
All will be well, with the power to make it so today.
(Review copyright Peter Carpenter)
Ranging from the Lake District to Rome, from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first, these poems revel in the particularity of people and places, and look for the sources of delight in human consciousness. The presence of the past is keenly felt, whether in faces of visitors to the British Museum, conversations with the Romantic age, or the erotic scene on an ancient oil lamp. There is a version of a medieval Noh play, and Seamus Heaney’s first collaboration with Eminem. Poems from this book have appeared in magazines such as Agni, The Dark Horse, The London Magazine, The New Criterion, New Statesman, Poetry Review, The Spectator and The Times Literary Supplement, as well as in anthologies and on BBC TV and radio.
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