A poem should be able to skim the surface before descending underwater – Richard Wink
You notice this especially in winter. You're on a bus, all is dark outside, and then you pass someone's house or flat, the curtains are open, the lights are on and for . . . How long? A second? Three, maybe four seconds? . . . you get to watch what's going on in their lives; someone watching the tele or washing the dishes, ironing, maybe, or sitting at the window looking right back at you. And don't say you never do it because we all do. If you're that kind of person – and my assertion is that we all are deep down – then you'll find Richard Wink's first full collection, Dead End Road, unputdownable.
In a recent interview he describes the book:
Basically each poem is a snippet, a snapshot of everyday life, looking at various families and individuals that live along a fictional road . . . it’s very much Desperate Housewives meets Revolutionary Road.
Let's go back to that bus you're on and those windows. Most of what's going on is boring and yet we keep looking expectantly waiting. Waiting for what? For something to happen. And then, when nothing happens, what do you do? Do you lose interest or do you start to imagine what could be happening, to extrapolate based on what you do know? I cannot imagine a single writer out there not doing this; everything is fodder after all.
Let's take the very first poem in the book. Now, surely a great deal of thought went into this decision. It's called 'After his operation' and this is the opening stanza:
There’s a man behind the curtains
who sits in his rocking chair
watching the snooker
he forgets pink and brown
and cannot see red.
By three the sun has gone for the day,
it made a fleeting appearance this morning
cast half a shadow over the gravel.
It's conjecture here. The curtains are not thrown open in this house. They are closed and what goes on behind closed curtains is even more intriguing than what we get to see. All we have here is 'a man', not an old man, not George or Bert or Mr. Finkelstein and so we have to start collaborating right from line one.
The same happens in the second poem, 'Housewife', where her husband gets a name, 'Philip', and her daughter, 'Mary', but the housewife doesn't, she is just 'she' or 'her' , "the person who operate[s] / the iron / the wooden spoon / the broom" as another anonymous housewife is described in the penultimate poem in the collection, 'The Stain'.
And this is how it should be. If I happen to glimpse my next-door neighbour though her window, I think, Oh, there's Sharon, but one block down they're all strangers, and across the road and down the street. But let's go back to our man watching the snooker for a moment:
Tea time, his thighs dampen
which will no doubt create tension
between himself and Margo
friend, carer, confidant.
She brings him lasagne in a Tupperware container
changes his clothes
runs a bath
into which he is lowered like a whale
moving from captivity into the expanse
of a pale blue ocean.
Too weak to do anything
other then sit back and sink
Now we get to know him. Seeing is one thing, seeing and imagining, but now we get to know how he feels about himself; he's a prisoner in his own body, '[t]oo weak to do anything" he even pees himself while awaiting the arrival of his caregiver.
There is no clever punch line to this poem, no wise words of wisdom for us to take away and nod our heads over. No, we are presented with a scene, a few bare facts and left to it.
This time we have a housewife. I've mentioned her already, another nameless person, and, at first, she seems as uninteresting as her neighbour:
She festers in her own set of bricks
right on the edge of the commuter belt,
a sanctity of quietness.
but there's a mystery here:
By afternoon she has skimmed through the paper
pausing to read her horoscope aloud
just in case whatever is generalized comes true,
then she farts about on the internet
reading Digital Spy.
Anything that will keep her
from going upstairs into Mary’s room
where she usually goes
sitting on her bed
clutching the miniature cacti in the pink flowerpot
Again, no answer. I assumed earlier that Mary was her daughter. But that's pure conjecture on my part. Has she run away? Has she died? Does it matter? And this, it seems, is a part of his grand plan:
There is a hell of a lot going in each poem, a lot is left open to interpretation, I like readers to use their imaginations and build upon the scenes I have set.
The third poem is about no one, no one in particular, anyone who owns a few kitchen appliances and a clock to be honest. It is certainly the more obviously poetic so far, plenty of internal rhymes and alliteration here, some personification and metaphors aplenty; hell, the poem even ends of a full rhyme – how very retro. Here's the entire poem this time:
When the clock ticks and the microwave beeps
time goes rotten,
the clocks dawdle
crawling on hands, unwise.
As winter sheds its slither of thin skin
and faces warm
the prospects survive
in closet beliefs and mild indignation.
Lives aflame are
disrupted by telesales calls,
lavender scented envelopes cascade
as modest men slumber in slippery sleep patterns
fabric spins in the washing machine
worn and bedraggled
sausages in the fridge expire
the seconds weep and tire.
This could be the keynote poem of the collection. The householders are now all but represented by their appliances and goods. The 'fabric' may be 'worn and bedraggled' but we're not talking about cloth here. This is a poem about urban decay. Oh, the streets may be free of dog muck, the lawns may be mowed and everyone's wheelie-bin matches but the decay is still there and time is what is wearing it all away. In our materialistic society we are what we buy.
In the house next door the man's car is gathering rust outside because he's lost his licence. His next-door neighbour is retired and lost but at least he doesn't have Alzheimer's like the woman next to him. And so we progress down the street, snapshots of lonely lives, postcards from the edge. These are poems inhabited by frustrated suburbanites, lost youths, committed Christians and redundant workers; debt collectors are knocking on their doors but they just keep brewing cups of tea, grinning and bearing it:
Then we had a cup of tea
it brought us back into the land of the living
opening our tired eyes.
Then we had another
mid morning, by this point we were dressed
Then we had another
it was served in a foam cup,
protected by a tight fitting plastic lid
which was a bitch to get off.
Then we had another
when a chocolate digestive was dipped,
crumbs swirling in the broth.
We’re allowed just the one
despite the diet.
Then we had another
one to unwind with on the sofa
the steam rose lucidly.
Then we had another
whilst we were watching Crimewatch
I'm convinced Larkin's 'Mr. Bleaney' must have lived somewhere along this road.
On one side these are very British poems but with a little tweak here and there Dead End Road could become La Rue de Fin Mort or Terminal Boulevard. People are people the world over. The themes here are universal, the effects of time and unforeseen circumstances on the lives of ordinary men, women and children.
I think the one poem which resonates most for me is 'Neighbourhood Watch':
Days were slow
often there would be nobody around to stare,
sometimes the empty streets left him scared.
The modern day obsession with personal space
renders him as an observer
He watches and speculates...
People don't linger outside. I watch them from my window, grabbing their possessions from their cars and rushing into their homes. This is not the Britain I grew up in.
There are a few lighter pieces in the collection, like this one set away from the road:
Caravans get towed along the mazy coastal roads
through Sidestrand, Overstrand and over to Cromer
where the gravy is
served with sloppiness.
Fingers are burnt on hot chips,
and battered cod
so heavenly it makes the mouth water
The pier is radiant with twirling divers
and swaying crabs
scuttling in turquoise sparkle buckets
caught with apricot coloured whelks
bait stinking something awful
I don't know the names of these towns but I could easily replace them with Ayr, Saltcoats and Largs and make it the west coast rather than the east. The seaside resort is something inherently British since we have so much coast; it is something we also romanticise a bit. It is a place we escape to from our dead end jobs and our dead end streets and our dead end lives. This poem comes roughly half way through the collection, a breather before we move back to face the day-to-day problems that plague us all.
I asked him a bit about the collection:
Did you write these poems intending them to form a unified collection?
I first played around with the concept of ‘snapshot’ poems with a previous chapbook I released last year called Apple Road. It received plenty of positive feedback from confidants so I decided it would be wise to expand upon this concept and put together a larger collection. Some of the poems are a couple of years old, but I decided to include them as they fitted in well alongside those I intended to form the backbone of Dead End Road.
Dead End Road – is this a metaphor for Britain in the noughties?
Is the title a metaphor for Britain in the noughties? Yes, blatantly. I don’t wish to pour too much scorn on corrupt politicians or even bemoan the threadbare moral fibre that holds together ‘society’; but from my own personal experience during the recession it is rather easy to find yourself stuck in a rut, with scant opportunity to drag yourself out of the mire.
This could be seen as a fairly bleak collection. What do you expect your readers to get out of it?
I think there is scope for these poems to be built upon. I’d love other poets to write response poems, expand upon the lives of these characters. On the surface many of the poems may appear brief but there is a lot going on. I anticipate that readers will enjoy the chance to re-read the poems, and attempt to burrow beneath the surface.
Although the themes are universal, stylistically I would say these poems are very British. Would you agree and which poets have inspired you in the past?
I’m very much from the ‘write about what you know’ school; these poems are observations and perhaps even misconceptions. They are British in the sense that Dead End Road could really be situated anywhere in the UK.
Carol Ann Duffy opened the door for me, in particular Standing Female Nude which I discovered when I was at sixth form college. I couldn’t really relate to Wordsworth, Coleridge or Byron but Duffy made poetry exciting and tangible. She is to poetry what Mike Leigh is to film.
What about Larkin?
I probably haven't read enough Larkin, though I do remember enjoying 'Toads Revisited'.
This is a very accessible collection of poetry. This is the kind of book that people who say they don't like poetry should have a look at. And when they do they'll probably criticise it for not presenting them with all the facts: Surely half the poem is missing. Where are the punch lines or the payoffs? Shouldn't there be a nice moral there to help me understand what I've been reading? Depending on who you are you will either be intrigued by this or frustrated. If you expect your author to do all the work for you then look elsewhere.
Although there are some crackers in this collection there are also a few that didn't excite me, however, one needs to consider this book as a whole; as you read through it the poems build one upon the other into something greater than the sum of its parts; it is a body of work and a body needs it's spleen and gallbladder every bit as much as it needs its eyes and hair. There are about 160 poems in this collection. I would have been happy with even 80, some number that I could read in a single sitting and then go back and immerse myself in afterwards.
Wink is definitely a poet who's on my wavelength. I would have no problems picking up anything by him in the future sight unseen.
Richard Wink was born in 1984 in Norwich, England where he still lives. He's been writing poetry for nine years but I've also seen him described online as a novelist, publisher, freelance writer and raconteur. Widely published, he has six chapbooks under his belt already including: All along the Wensum (Kendra Steiner Editions), The Magnificent Guffaw (erbacce-press), Apple Road (Trainwreck Press) and Delirium is a Disease of the Night (Shadow Archer Press). Dead End Road is out now through BeWrite Books. He also edits the "cult litzine" – his words – Gloom Cupboard.
You can read an interviews with Richard here and here and here are links to a selection of his poems online: Underground Voices (3 poems), Radiant Turnstile (5 poems), Lit Up Magazine (8 poems), Ditch (3 poems) and laurahird.com (6 poems).