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AS BEST WE CAN published August 27 2020 by Carcanet Press, available now from on-line store at

As Best We Can

As Best We Can is a little different from my previous books in that it is more various in its subject-matter. For instance several of the poems have an openly autobiographical element and even use the pronoun ‘I’, something I’ve strenuously avoided in the past.

It begins with a number of short, separate poems mostly beginning from casually observed scenes. If they owe anything to William Carlos Williams’ famous dictum ‘no ideas but in things’ this is not maintained for long as even when I am trying to avoid ideas in favour of image or aural effect I find myself seeking them out rather as though I’m rummaging in a pocket for something I’ve forgotten. The poem ‘The Idea’ consciously looks for ‘an idea’, ‘something that can connect … and will justify me’. There is I suppose an impulse towards self-justification – something to make the poem valuable or worthwhile. I regret this impulse but cannot ignore it. ‘The Window-Ledge’ is one poem where I escape it almost successfully.

Another topic among the poems in the book is visual art, most extensively in a sequence called ‘Drawing Lessons’ in which each poem takes off with a phrase from John Ruskin’s primer The Elements of Drawing.   I used this some years ago when I was trying, unsuccessfully, to teach myself to draw. The frustrations of this, and the sometimes comic conflicts between the natural world and its representations, feature prominently in the poems. What they also seek to do is to begin with the Ruskin quotes and then play with a series of linguistic registers and moods. The sequence is dedicated to Brian Maidment, an old friend and colleague of mine who really does know about Ruskin and first piqued my interest in him.

The collection contains two longer poems and a sequence that are more autobiographical. One is partly about and is dedicated to my mother, and the other about some aspects of my father’s personality. It’s interesting, though perhaps not unusual, that I’m returning to material recollected from my childhood in these late poems.

‘Who Was St Chad?’ evokes the Anglican church my mother attended as a girl. She was part of a strong religious culture, mainly Anglican and Methodist, that existed in Stoke-on-Trent in the first half of the 20th century and has all but disappeared in the course of my generation and since. There is some nostalgia for this but the poem is ambivalent, asking ‘how can we be the first / to live without the need/ for pleas or prayers’?

The phrase in the title of ‘My Father and the “Onward Tendency”’ is from George Eliot and represents a liberal, meliorist attitude towards our society,or indeed civilisation, as perpetually progressing. An idea again I’m afraid, but one my father largely shared without accruing much material benefit and despite its inevitable disappointments.

My own life also figures in ‘Dreams of Lennox Road’ but in a very different way, uninformed and unshadowed by ideas. Each poem comes directly from sporadic dreams I had over a year or more with little in common except that in one way or another they all featured the street where I spent the first 18 years of my life. The poems contain very little compositional intervention and no attempt to organise them, still less to interpret them. They remain something of a mystery to me and as a series of quick notations they are a long way from my usual method.

That method for me has always been a slow and detailed process in which ,like the persona in one of the ‘Drawing Lessons’, ‘I rub and rub and try again’.  Many of them, including most of the short poems have taken months of rubbing. I hope the reader finds it has been worthwhile.


WHAT MUST HAPPEN was 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 the People – 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.

REVIEWS of What Must Happen

The Guardian

Sean O'Brien

What Must Happen by Jeffrey Wainwright review – seeking human traces in the landscape

Pot glazers at theWedgwood pottery, Stoke-on-Trent in the 1930s. Photograph: Fox Photos/GettyImages

Jeffrey Wainwright’s work is among the most interesting of any poet now writing. Although he has an admiring readership, he has stayed under the radar much of the time, pursuing a line of poetic inquiry that links him to writers as various as GeoffreyHill, Roy Fisher, TonyHarrison and even Charles Tomlinson (who like Wainwright was from the Potteries) – all of them in various ways historian-poets. Wainwright’s particular imprint is a richly charged austerity, an ostensible plainness that,like a powerful magnet, summons suggestions to the page and the ear. Part of the pleasure of reading his work is trying to establish how he does so much by such apparently unspectacular means. An equally unobtrusive formal assurance has much to do with his success.

One of his modes is the condensed epic, like the early “1815”, set in the year of Waterloo, amid “the English miracle” of industry and the attendant deaths of mill workers “common as smoke”. History continues to absorb Wainwright in this new collection, where the title poem depicts a series of ideas of what history is or should be,including this painterly and grimly comic tableau: “Look at His Highness therein white and gold, / And this other in his oh-so-modest blue; / Look how their men are drawn to breast the rise – / Accoutred and alive, how historical they are!”

After this ambiguously heroic painting comes “Crockery”’, a sequence of six poems derived from Wainwright’s home ground, Stoke-on-Trent. Here his concentration on the products of Josiah Wedgwoods factories draws in history, politics, class, art and aspiration. We can imagine an earnest, decent (or as Auden put it, “edifying and unreadable”) set piece being made of this subject, a kind of illustrated lecture which ends up missing its own point. Wainwright, though, is never content to let matters appear settled. History invades and contradicts itself at every turn, while industry enlists the very sensibility that might seem to oppose it. The “wasp waisted girl in crinolines, / cheeks just ablush, slim fingers offering a posy / of forget-me-nots for their ceramic scent, / her slipper cool enough to step on ice” might be a maiden from Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” given a makeover. Her state as finished porcelain is “her domain where she can breathe air / a sun-flecked as her gown. Live here my lady, / Safe from all that muck outside: /you are the beauty we have come to know”.

Immediately after “Crockery”comes “The Prims”, running counter to the reflexive irreligion of the present in its treatment of the austere and charitable Primitive Methodists, who emerged in the early 19th century, often drawn from the poorest workers. They sought “the word / of some god who is not Mammon and who likes the meek. / Who shall inherit. Inherit what? This show below? / potbanks, coal-smoke, salt-fogs, pitheaps, saffrucks, soot? // These ‘dear peculiar people’ are not that daft. / They do not expect owt builded here to go up quick.” As AlanJohnson repeated during the 2015 Labour leadership campaign, socialism in its English form has often had more to do with Methodism than Marx. Wainwright’s poem silently asks where such solidarity may now be found, or where it has vanished to.

He goes on to seek human traces in the landscape. In“Manchukuo” he remembers “a few yards of wall, / a few flights of brick, / each brick nose to nose, / a different oblong, / this one wafering / revealing its innermost tangerine”. Wainwright has in mind a date – 18 September 1931, when the Manchurian war broke out – and wonders whether his uncle, who was later to die in the Pacific conflict, brushed against this spot while passing by. “But this is harder to research” than the geopolitics of the time, though the fleeting human moment is what gives the bigger picture whatever meaning and value it possesses. In the sequence “Agricola”, which offers glimpses from a working landscape, the fact that someone has been here is oddly satisfying:“other lean-tos, / a cross-and-bible door / laid on its side, / blue-grey corrugated, / its bolt-holes black or rust fringed”. The relish of what’s present but not in use recalls both Edward Thomas’s “Tall Nettles” and the work of Fisher.

There’s a more deliberate, even ritualised form of inquiry in the sequences “An Empty Street”and “An Almost Empty Street”, which arise from work by the Italian painter Ottone Rosai (1895-1957). Wainwright empties the street, imagines people shortly to arrive, speculates on the painter’s motive, and then arrives as though casually at a question which has been in the offing all along: “Is it one of those secret worlds / with metaphysics skulking in the walls, / that door so enigmatic? / Maybe there is something / we might wish to see / face to face, to be / chased from the shadows, / or shaken from the trees / but we never -”. Never one to settle for a single position, in some of the other poems Wainwright undertakes a decluttering and depopulation of landscapes and objects, only for the restlessness of mind and imagination to intrude on this attempted neutrality – these faculties being, after all, human and having a place, however fleeting, among the things that may or may not add up to a scheme. Fascinating work.

• Sean O’Brien’s The BeautifulLibrarians is published by Picador.

What Must Happen is published by Carcanet. To order a copyfor £8.49 (RRP £9.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UKp&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


The Guardian

Poem of the week: To Himself by Jeffrey Wainwright

Carol Rumens

Dreams and systems; humble wishes;
myths that sustain because venerable;
even a walk along the promenade
might do, undertaken regularly.

The sea uprears and then falls back,
turns itself emerald, as though auditioning
to be a paradigm, another helpful,
dainty stepper with no power

to explicate or recommend.
So why not fill the time available
as these tall pines have done,
and with no more intent than they?

In fact, dream not, wish not,obviously
believe not. Abandon even the promenade.
As the sea turns itself, strive to imagine
nothing that would stir or stand.

To Himself is the final poem in Jeffrey Wainwright’s most recent collection, What Must Happen. Significantly, it follows a longer, three-part sequence, The Immortals, acting almost as a little coda. The immortals, Jupiter, Venus and Apollo respectively, are given vigorous contemporary manifestations, but they are not left stripped of a few remnants of earlier glory. They are still associated with what the final poem describes as “myths that sustain because venerable”.

Earlier in the collection, and perhaps closer in its philosophical approach to nature, another sequence, These Things, concludes: “All I see is time and what might be like and like, / the watch-winding cicadas for instance. / I fear these things are no more than they appear to be”. That poem’s epigraph from Emily Dickinson, “But Nature is a stranger yet”, is reawakened in To Himself, too, with its concluding vision of phenomena held in a stasis beyond growth and change.

The resistance to transcendence is imaginatively bracing. If the wave in stanza 2 is not “auditioning / to be a paradigm,”can language fill the gap with the image of what might have been? Perhaps there is a kind of poet who, ideally, would rather be without the ultimate reducibility of phenomena to language.

The opening stanza begins with a pleasing mix of abstraction before narrowing its sights to the stroll along the promenade: this, too, might become “venerable” if “undertaken regularly”, ritualised, and thus freighted with modest tradition. Despite the promenade and the perambulation, the description of the sea and pines could signal ekphrasis,with a pictorial source. As in a classical Chinese painting, the systematised, stylised sea “uprears” and leads the eye to the casually sky-filling pines. The grammatical shorthand of the first stanza also reflects an impressionistic technique, brushstrokes which suggest rather than define connection.

When the sea is described as“another helpful / dainty stepper”, none of the epithets are expected. Shallow,regular, inshore waves are evoked, a low horizon suited to the anti-sublime,but the poem continues to pursue an argument with their symmetrical ambitions. A break between stanzas 2 and 3 wrong-foots any reader who might have started to complain, “what do you mean, the sea has no power?” What the sea lacks, we discover, is the “power // to explicate or recommend”. The speaker might be in search of systems, as at the beginning of the poem, or even the fulfilment of dreams and wishes, but the lesson is to go beyond these natural movements of the human mind. Imitation of nature is insufficient, although the eye still remains admiring, or not un-admiring.

A careful engagement with nature ‘in its fault and fold’ is also a watchful flight from human complication

Inversion hardens the negative form of the injunctions of the last stanza: “In fact, dream not, wish not, obviously/ believe not.” But the final warning against belief may be ambiguous. The lack of a comma after the “obviously” of that first line may shift the direction of the adverb’s meaning. The speaker could be simply pointing out that he’s saying the obvious. Alternatively, the instruction might hinge on the quality of the belief, or its subject. Believe nothing obvious, or believe judiciously, might be its import.

The idea of “nothing that would stir or stand” is stonily compelling. It could represent ultimate bliss or pure extinction. The exhortation to “strive to imagine” such a condition suggests a spiritual exercise, for want of a better term, but, in the context, it’s a further manifestation of the intellectual scrupulousness that has distinguished Wainwright’s achievement throughout his career.



Gaps of memory


JeffreyWainwright has a long-standing reputation as the writer of some fine historical and political poems. What Must Happen is his most personal collection, its dominant textures steady, sad and frank, meted out primarily in his typically disciplined units of free verse. “Manchukuo”, early in the book, exemplifies much of the poetry that follows. It begins in Australia, before moving to the poet’s native Stoke-on-Trent: “What do I carry now / of Sandford Hill? / (Local pronunc. Sanfa-Dill.) / I am trying. / Gaps of memory seem /another failing, / even another guilt”. The poem’s third and final section then takes up the puppet state of the title, established after the Japanese invasion in 1931, perhaps the “true date / of the start of World War II”. But the poem keeps us looking down an archway in Stoke, towards an unsalvageable past: on that distant day of distant warfare, the speaker’s uncle, who would die in the Second World War, “passed under the arch, / perhaps brushed his coat shoulder /against the brick”.

Complementing these poems about childhood and family are less misty pieces with a historical focus and contemporary bite, more akin to what we are accustomed to from this poet: poems such as “The Prims”, apparently set in the Victorian Black Country, about one who “carts the gospel from place to place”. The meek shall “Inherit what?”, the poem asks. “This show below? / potbanks, coal-smoke, salt-fogs, pit-heaps, saffrucks, soot?” Especially witty and pointed is the short sequence “The Immortals”, which brings Roman gods down to earth with the poet. In “Jupiter”,we first see the planet: “I catch you when I’m caught short . . . gazing up over the rooftops”. And what of the Immortal himself? Time hasn’t been kind:“You’re down the hill, elbows on the bar, / nursing a beer they’ve named for you”, until he goes to the Gents for – of course – “an age”.

Wainwright’s lines can be slack and prosaic at times, especially in passages of clumsy explication. But these are for the most part terse, exact poems, with crisp if sometimes writerly images: the sea “uprears and then falls back, / turns itself emerald as though auditioning / to be a paradigm”. The poet is almost always in complete control. A poem after the painter Ottone Rosai, more tribute than ekphrasis, manages to be too richly visual and multivalent for boredom to set in, even while it repeats the refrain “What is there to an empty street?” at twenty regular intervals. And I can imagine how a creative writing workshop might treat lines such as “I like predictable days”, but the simple lassitude of that statement embellishes the fabric of the vivid poem it appears in. Wainwright,now in his seventy-fourth year, is delicately extending his range here, in what is an impressive, meaningful collection.


Stand, Summer 2017

John Whale

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 after-life.

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 rather than ends each stanza, and with its slightly varying curiosity the sequence of poems uses its self-consciousness about artifice to engage with sentiment and to fend off the merely sentimental:

My dear friend, where are you now?

Close enough to sniff, or sense that I am

getting sentimental? No, not that close

of course, but bugs and birds inverses such

as these, offered as companion souls,

would bring out the skeptic scold in you.

Most death has been untimely,miserably –

yours but one – and we want something we can

do about it. Sentiment strives to caulk the wound.

Through its characteristically ratiocinative workings – through such an apparently leisured aside as ‘of course’ – and by its shift to a version of the understated demotic in ‘do about it’ (strategically placed at the beginning of the line to expose the force of the euphemistic helplessness of the verb ‘to do’),Wainwright’s poem earns its right to move towards the rhythmic surety of its sententious last statement: ‘Sentiment strives to caulk the wound’.

Within the generous and democratic tendency of Wainwright’s imagination his engagement with consciousness finds him attending to both the apparent ordinariness of perception, as in the poem ‘An Empty Street’, and the classical immortals:Jupiter, Venus, and Apollo. In The Important Man, Wainwright took us away from the field of battle to the scene of exploitative labour and domestic suffering back home. Even within its scenes of war – whether Waterloo or Jutland– his imagination went out to the ‘rosy-cheeked plough-boys’ in the former and in the latter, in ‘H.M.S Invincible’, the admiral drowns amongst ‘scalded stokers’. In What Must Happen there is a similarly rigorous questioning of the dominant historical frame. Unfolding history – as in the title poem – is presented as an odd pageant which must be subjected to scrutiny and to the limits of individual consciousness.

Across the volume, Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery provides Wainwright with an extended opportunity to explore this historical conundrum. The industrialist’s classical wares depicting historical subjects are here juxtaposed with the lives of the workers employed in his factory at Etruria. Wedgwood also offers, therefore, a useful bridge between the finished beauty of classical forms and the dangerous conditions of working-class life in industrial England.

A key part of What Must Happen – a large sub-section of which is entitled ‘Crockery’ – focuses on the townscapes and scarred landscapes of the Potteries where Wainwright grew up. The word itself splits across a warm recognition of the familiar demotic to a sense of the archaeological and the fragility – or at least fragmented – nature of the historical record. A six-poem sequence pays homage to the people – including those in his own family – who were employed in Wedgwood’s famous factory and the collection as a whole takes something of its character from this iconic conjunction of classical beauty and the steadfast lives lived among its filthy and damaging industrial processes:

Deep-breathing by an open window,sanatorium-style,

is recommended, but dirt still settles in the phlegm,

bronchitic thickenings, spitting in the street, the scourings

of flint and soft soot pocketed by the helpless lung.

The paintress of majolica licked her brush and died.

Dippers lined their guts with milk and Epsom salts

to no avail. God bless the Factory Acts

that saved my mother from the leaded glaze!

In‘Agricola’, Wainwright moves off-centre from Wedgwood’s enlightenment capitalism in order to contemplate the ‘earth scratched for a living’. He conjures a series of precise images which vividly capture the industrial landscape of his childhood. We are presented with

tanks in fields

for water or fuel oil;

other containers


white bath tubs

with tide-lines,

phosphoric green


by the gate tied with orange twine,

the deep-pocketed sludge

under the beasts’ feet

Two other fine poems – ‘The Prims’ and ‘Sunday Afternoon’ – focus on Primitive Methodism, a form of Protestantism which had strong popular appeal in the Potteries up to the mid-twentieth century when Wainwright was a boy. The first of these gives him the opportunity to explore the working-class belief systems which then obtained. In both poems Wainwright pointedly offers respect to the pious believers of his community despite the fact that he does not share their faith. ‘The Prims’ ends with the line: ’May those who mock thee learn the dignity of love.’ And ‘Sunday Afternoon’ repeats the statement ‘I love thee Will Heath’ in a context where the subject’s unshakeable belief in his God is presented in a context of suffering, penury, and the obvious failure of his Sunday school. Once again, the precision of Wainwright’s imagination makes this a matter of respect rather than one of pity.

The subject of the afterlife is taken up in another guise in ‘On the Grass’, a poem which explicitly takes issue with Geoffrey Hill’s statement in Odi Barbare: ‘I do not see us reabsorbed into nature’. For Wainwright, being reabsorbed by nature is precisely what he unflinchingly presents in a moving poem about the death of his own parents:

I do see us this way, or have seen, perhaps see,

no, do see.

See what I have done: I threw my parents’ ashes out together

on the grass

Once again Wainwright’s forte is the precise poetic twist on ordinary language, the verbs ‘to do’ and ‘to see’ being pushed through a series of registers which force us to entertain the proposition from different angles as they are variously inflected through the consciousness of the speaker. Wainwright’s poetic contemplation of the after-life might take issue with Geoffrey Hill and with other metaphysical propositions, but it also establishes the space of the poem as the ground on which such a life might be imaginatively entertained. A similar capacity for poetic hypothesis in the imaging of his muted, but poetic version of the afterlife recurs in ‘Both Sides,’ where in a dream he has his parents

at a distance waiting

squashed it seems

into a kiddie-car

gig or dog-cart

– it’s hard to tell –

but in a holding pattern

and among the clouds

of course

Throughout What Must Happen Wainwright’s attentiveness to history moves easily and often elegantly, as we have seen,between a sure-footed imagistic materialism and a sinuous series of speculations. He writes with a combination of forensic rigour and tempered sympathy for the people and the region of his childhood and he is able to productively juxtapose the idiomatic demotic of that region with the eloquence and even the grandiloquence of the larger historical frame. That he is able to do so with such success is testimony to the creative power of his reading.

In his review of Roy Fisher’s The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 (Stand 7 (2) 2007) Wainwright revealed something of himself in his shrewd understanding of his fellow poet. He drew attention to how Fisher found William Carlos Williams ‘companionable’ in his deviation from the centre. For Wainwright, Fisher is a writer for whom ‘focal points are anathema’ and this makes him a ‘fascinating poet of cities’. In the same review, Wainwright also suggests how ‘an impressionist inheritance of modernism permits the significant to emerge from the unassuming, the nondescript’. This is one of a number of skills put to excellent use in What Must Happen.

Wainwright has clearly learned much from Fisher and his American predecessors, including Williams, in the fashioning of his own craft and this is evident in this collection’s sympathetic relish of the marginal and the marginalized in its depiction of the Potteries. In explicitly taking on the classical aesthetic enterprise of Wedgwood’s Etruria, however, Wainwright also engages with the mainstream. His distinctive lyricism mixes imagism with a precise notation of the process of mind as well as a philosophical eloquence which can productively embrace abstraction. He is a poet who has learned well, not just from Roy Fisher and William Carlos Williams, but also from Wallace Stevens and, of course, Geoffrey Hill.


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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