Sunday Poem – Ben Wilkinson

Evening all! You will be relieved to know that I did indeed survive Total Warrior.  It was really hot yesterday which was probably a good thing – I never felt too hot because we spent most of our 2 hour run covered in mud or in the middle of a river or wading through a skip filled with ice-cold water and when I say ice-cold I mean water with ice cubes in.

Here are some of the things I liked about Total Warrior

1. Clare Shaw and Keith Sagar – I have decided Clare Shaw must have been an Amazonian in a former life.  Not only is she great at running but she was unfazed by all of the obstacles – I’ve never seen anybody scamper up a wall so fast and whereas most of the women in the race had to get help from the blokes to help them over the walls – Clare didn’t need anybody’s help and in fact spent a large proportion of the time perched on top of walls helping me over.  It was also lovely to get to know Keith a bit better, who I bumped into briefly at my reading at the HEART cafe in Headingley.

2. The husband – Chris was a last minute addition to the team but thank god he was there!  On the last wall where you have to run up the wall and grab a rope (!) Clare went over first, then Chris, leaving me and Keith.  I’m sure Keith won’t mind me saying that we are not natural wall climbers – anyway, there was no way I was getting up there, so Chris ran back around the wall and gave me a leg up, gave Keith a leg up and then did the obstacle again.  He is like a very thin mountain goat.  Again, Clare and a random man grabbed me before I fell from the wall to my death..ok I’m slightly exaggerating – it is possible that if I fell I may have just broken something…

3.  The obstacles – They were good fun and now I can’t quite believe that I did them.  The mud is so awful that it kind of makes you not care about what is coming up – the mud makes you glad to get into the freezing water because it washes the mud off.  I was really terrified about the Electric Shock obstacle but I managed to slip between the wires and didn’t get one shock which I was very smug about.  In fact the obstacles kind of make you forget that there was actually nearly eight miles of running in between them…

4.  The goodies at the end – we got a t-shirt, a bandana, a can of beer, a bottle of water and a protein bar.  The race was really well-organised and I had a really nice burger and an icecream and a cup of tea afterwards.

5. Random people – the other race participants were lovely – was helped lots of times by complete strangers.  A marshall was so enthusiastic and confident in my ability to get over an overhanging wall that my natural obedience kicked in and I let him help me over…

Things I didn’t like about Total Warrior

1.  The walls!  I get dizzy whenever I go over the top of a wall – I don’t know if it is true vertigo – that is what I think of it as in my head.  At the first high wall, I panicked and didn’t listen to anyone’s instructions and kind of slipped down backwards – luckily my bony shoulder blades hit the wall before my head did and slowed me down…

2.  The slide at the end which everybody else thought was great fun I hated – I don’t like being out of control and it was fast and horrible and I screamed all the way down…I would never normally do that but wasn’t about to miss out one obstacle after doing everything else…

That’s about it really – the rest of it was really good fun.  I don’t have an urge to do one again, but I would do one as part of a larger group maybe one time.  Today has mostly been about recovering from my exertions yesterday.  I think every muscle I have in my body is aching now.  I went for a walk across the fields with the dogs and the husband and stupidly wore shorts and got completely stung by nettles – the rash has still not gone from my ankle to my knee and we got back hours ago so am feeling sorry for myself tonight.

The first official Sunday Poem since my short break goes to Ben Wilkinson, who I’ve met twice in the last month – once at the launch of his pamphlet ‘For Real’ which was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and once at the Northern Writers Awards last week – as Ben was also a recipient of the Awards.  I really enjoyed the recent launch at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere of the four Pamphlet winners and decided it would be a good idea to start off the Sunday Poems with a poem from each of the winners’ pamphlets.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Ben’s pamphlet – and chose this poem because I loved it as soon as I heard him read it at the launch.  The title puts us straight away into the emotional territory of the poem with it’s nod to Churchill’s well-known metaphor to describe his depression – his ‘black dog’.  I like how the poem starts with ‘When it comes’ – which tells us that the arrival of the hound has happened before and will probably happen again.  Despite this, I think this is a hopeful poem – there is a way of dealing with the hound – to ‘make it trudge/for miles through cold and wind and sleet’.  The poem is not unrealistically hopeful though – the hound does not disappear by the end never to be seen again – it ‘goes to ground’.

I think technically this poem holds together beautifully – the line breaks are perfectly placed and the poem is full of half rhymes and echoes.  I think the voice of the poem sounds very certain, sure and in control which sets up an interesting tension  because of the subject matter.

Ben Wilkinson was born in Stafford in 1985, and now lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. His first pamphlet of poems ‘The Sparks’ was published by tall-lighthouse in 2008.  He is a keen runner, and among other things he works as a critic, reviewing new poetry for The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement. He recently won the Northern Promise Award, presented by New Writing North as part of the 2014 Northern Writers’ Awards and the poem below comes from his brand new shiny pamphlet ‘For Real’ published by Smith/Doorstop.

If you would like to order Ben’s pamphlet you can do so from his website where you can find out more about him or from the Poetry Business website where you could order all four of the prize winning pamphlets – next week there will be another poem here from one of the winners.

Hound – Ben Wilkinson

When it comes, and I know how it comes
from nowhere, out of night
like a shadow falling on streets,
how it waits by the door in silence –
a single black thought, its empty face –

don’t let it tie you down to the house,
don’t let it slope upstairs to spend
hours coiled next to your bed,
but force the thing out, make it trudge
for miles in cold and wind and sleet.

Have it follow you, the faithful pet
it pretends to be, this mutt
like a poor-man’s Cerberus,
tell it where to get off when it hangs
on with its coaxing look,

leave it tethered to a lamppost
and forget those pangs of guilt.
Know it’s no dog but a phantom,
fur so dark it gives back nothing,
see your hand pass through

its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again.

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