Jeffrey Wainwright Poet Poetry The Reasoner Academic
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WHAT MUST HAPPEN, Jeffrey Wainwright's new book of poems is published in July 2016 by CARCANET PRESS.

It is available from Bookshops and at:

It includes:

'To JD', an elegy in ten sections for John Davidson, 'My dear friend nowhere in sight / The Han River keeps flowing east.' (Wang Wei, trans. David Hinton).

'Crockery', a poem in six sections on the pottery industry, its history and Josiah Wedgwood.

'An Empty Street', shortlisted in the 'Best Single Poem' category of the Forward Prize, 2014, a sequence after a painting, 'Via San Leonardo' by the Italian 20th century painter Ottone Rosai. The text appears on the Poetry page.

Funny – to be a Century –

And see thePeople – going by -

(Emily Dickinson)

The title poem of What Must Happen is about what I call ‘the Sciences of History’ and their attempts to make sense of the past by a series of theories: an Hegelian ‘World’s Reason’, revolutionary expectation, and modern neo-con hubris. Three sections treat these viewpoints in turn and, in the fourth, the note-taking ‘Sciences of History’ are nonplussed by the persistence of conflict and the sight of ‘the People – going by’ through the miseries of its field hospitals. Like us they are left with the question:‘What must happen, what need not?’ Which is ‘funny’ in Emily Dickinson’s serious sense of the word.

This sequence is one of a group of poems in the book on wider historical subjects. Sometimes however they relate to my personal recollections of family, and particularly my upbringing in the Potteries. ‘Crockery’,a series of poems on the history of the pottery industry moving from ancient manufacture, Wedgwood’s golden age and the contemporary globalised world.

The book also includes more obviously personal, mainly elegiac poems that recall my parents, relations and friends.

A third grouping of poems are best described as ‘variations’ in that they reiterate and vary particular words, phrases, images and most importantly rhythms. One, ‘An Empty Street’ takes off from a painting, ‘Via San Leonardo’ by the 20thcentury Italian painter Ottone Rosai.

Whilst the historical poems make use of research the ‘variation’ poems have a looser, more intuitive character. The poems mostly use a free verse line although there is frequent use of stanza groupings and symmetrical structures across the poems as a whole.


Jeffrey Wainwright’s previous book of poems, The Reasoner, is published by Carcanet Press, 2012.

'Reason is a child, angered by tiredness, that will not sleep' - Helen Tookey

In The Reasoner, a series of ninety-five poems, we listen to ‘the Reasoner’, a
voice that is by turns ardent, despairing and comic. Petty
obsessions rub against attempts at philosophical seriousness;
vernacular expression vies with an intent deliberation. Above
all, the Reasoner is worried. He has cherished the notion that,
with thought and study, the world may be understood. But the
world remains recalcitrant, elusive even in simple things like the
trickeries of light on a spider’s web. Language plays tricks,
although it may be as complete as we can manage. History
proposes and disposes of its patterns. Behind all this there may
be a ‘hidden order’ – and that is both a hope and a fear.
Does God help us to understand any of this? Does Art? Is the
‘soul’ a sanctuary? The Reasoner, the reader, ‘smiles ruefully
and soldiers on’, ‘for this is not a wicked but a hard world, /
and people struggle, without a scheme of things, / and deserve

Jeffrey Wainwright can be seen reading other poems from The Reasoner on the Portfolio pages.

The Reasoner can be purchased direct from Carcanet Press or from bookshops or the usual websites.


Jeffr­ey Wainwright’s book of poems, CLARITY OR DEATH! was published on July 30 2008 by Carcanet Press.

The title is inspired by these words of Wittgenstein, who may or may not have been serious: 'I wish to God that I were more intelligent and everything would finally become clear to me, or else that I didn’t live much longer!' Sometimes solemnly and sometimes quizzically, these poems deal with the desire for such ‘clarity’ in our knowledge of the world, the universe and ourselves.

Poems from and more information about CLARITY OR DEATH! together with excerpts from an interview with Jeffrey Wainwright are on the Poetry page.

CLARITY OR DEATH! can be ordered direct from CARCANET PRESS.


Jeffrey Wainwright's previous books SELECTED POEMS (1985), THE RED-HEADED PUPIL (1994) and OUT OF THE AIR (1999) are published by Carcanet Press.

A book on the purposes and styles of poetry, POETRY THE BASICS, was published by Routledge in April 2004 and a revised third edition was published 2015.

His most recent critical work is ACCEPTABLE WORDS: ESSAYS ON THE POETRY OF GEOFFREY HILL, Manchester University Press December 2005. After an overview essay, the book includes essays on the different volumes of Hill's work up to and including Scenes from Comus (2005) and discussion of work published since. More details at Manchester University Press.

Wainwright has translated plays by Péguy, Claudel, Corneille and the text of his version of Bernard-Marie Koltès' IN THE SILENCE OF COTTON FIELDS appears in Koltès: Plays 2 (Methuen 2004).


In PN REVIEW #182 July-August 2008, new poems and an interview-discussion with Helen Tookey (see Poetry Pages).
In THE READER, Summer 2008, an article in the 'The Poet on His Work' serie­s The Reader.


In March 2008 he retired as Professor in the Department of English at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, to write full-time. He gives public readings and talks about poetry. Please contact


For eleven years he was northern theatre critic for The Independent, reviewing productions across the region from Birmingham to Lancaster. He has also contributed to BBC Radio arts programmes.


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