100 Quatorzains by John Wilks

100 Quatorzains by John Wilks

Review by Ewan

Available in paperback from Amazon, priced at £10:

100 Quatorzain: Amazon.co.uk: Wilks, John: 9798746315168: Books

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If I had been presented with this collection anonymously, I would have guessed its author long before reading the last poem in it. John Wilks distinctive voice shines through. By turns bitter, romantic, cynical and occasionally optimistic, this poet moulds his 100 Quatorzain so deftly that I, for one, forgot the form in the pleasure of the flow. As someone who struggles to write one, I can assure you that writing a century of them is a magnificent achievement. 


“100 Q” opens with the bold, self-referential ‘And This’: a poem that starts by telling us what it is


                                                “                                                                                  … a list

                                                of finger-pointed things, a magic mis-

                                                direction of the reader’s eyes, a tryst

                                                between what is and what I say it is,”.


Perhaps it’s a warning. I prefer to think it’s a promise. If so, it’s one that this ingenious and impressive “ton” keeps. 


Though much is personal in the poems, when John steps into the shoes of others, they fit well and there is no stumbling. ‘Beasts May Drink’ is as subtle a rendition of the horrors of the Holocaust as you will ever read. 


No poet ever produces a body of work without addressing love, romance and the mixed-up mess of it all. Particularly satisfying is the pleasure of reading ‘Blame Annie Hall’, on the follies of youthful desire, just after the rueful ‘Beauty Sleeping’. 


Thematically, we are in familiar Wilks territory, ranging from a childhood few would recognise - unless their own remembered hills were blue – through love, loss and ageing. All one human’s life is here, but it will ring distant bells for many who read these poems, I’m sure. Love in all its forms appears, young love, foolish love, lost love, wasted love and the many other kinds we all know, have known or will know. I found ‘Love in Three Dimensions’ particularly moving. 

100 Quatrains is not without humour. As a one-time Cold Warrior, I laughed out loud at ‘Former Soviet Union Sonnet’. In certain of the poems, we are sandbagged, too busy laughing at the humour until we feel the pathos bubbling under. I went back to ‘Pretend Poison’ time and again to savour youthful, would-be lovers battling with the Bard. ‘Were-wife’ bore more than several readings too. 


Some of John Wilks’ best poetry deals with one of the most devastating losses of all. If I have read anything as starkly moving as ‘My Baby Has No Face’ this year, I cannot recall it. 

John writes, in ‘Of Moths and Metaphors’, 


                                                “                                                                                  … Today

                                                is a good day to live and not to wring

                                                all meaning from the sunset, all beauty

                                                from the moon.”

Sometimes it is better to appreciate the ‘what’, rather than the ‘why? Isn’t it?

There are so many wonderful poems in this collection, I shall not list them all. Do seek out, “100 Words”, inspired by the late “Captain Tom”, to whose foundation all profits from sales of “100 Quatorzains” will go.