Reckitt’s Blue by John Wilkinson

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With Reckitt’s Blue John Wilkinson practices a poetic engagement both lean and rigorous that is perceptively alert while precisely detailed in presentation. The world of these poems is filled by colorful, lively forms in constant movement whose bustling activity is only matched by the veracity by which Wilkinson attends to his reporting of them.

The contents of the book itself are near evenly split between two long poems of multiple parts. The first “The Swing” is composed of an opening run of fourteen numbered sections, although three titled poems “The Beacons,” “At a Lost,” and “Blue Flash limbo” appear between VII & VIII. Various scenes of activity unfurl and though we are told “heads of the characters hammer through daisies” it is difficult to identify any specific individuals or traditional narrative. We are however awash in rich description.

The cities will unite while the lines always trudge.
Gashed, gnashed, throat moshing at its mouthpiece,
birdsong drives forward in a pentatonic cascade,
tongue to tunnel tongue, the descendant
looping though vowels sinks rapidly into a swallet.
(“The Beacons”)

A “swallet” is an underground stream or otherwise opening in the earth through which water runs. Wilkinson’s verse hosts a bevy of such not so familiar descriptive terms. Though distracting at times the reading experience is nonetheless enriched by Wilkinson’s deft handling of them. A swallet for instance is an apt metaphor for the poems in the book as a whole which come on very strong. There are long passages tightly constricted which feel as if submersed in an underground torrent of poetry which then on occasion spring out into an open accessibility only to be filled again by a piled description of detail under which they submerge back to recessed depths. The language of these poems rushes on offering such little recognizable context readers are apt to feel tossed to and fro.

In the latter half of “The Swing” come two separate sub-sections “What Gives” and “Tornada.” “What Gives” offers fairly identifiable reference subject matter identified on the book’s back cover as “an iconic work of Western Art” Fragonard’s L’escatpolette, or The Swing: “the first poems…take flight from the painting’s foreground image of a young woman losing her slipper mid-swing.” Lines where contemplation of the painting occurs are clear enough:

The swing hangs no set of scales, no reckoning
will best, a ruffle gathers every rill as absorbent
cotton, ribbon flutters tie the empty flying vessel
pinned to its ellipse
a fold with no pocket, I could hang on those lips forever.
(“What Gives”)

Alongside those where it is not so clearly the case.

Let it go. Beauty interrupts the fogs of glassine, rowlocks
creak on river’s stillness and flatness.
Disconsonance folds.
How glossily slathering her thigh!
(“What Gives”)

The second half of the book is given over to the poem “Reckitt’s Blue” with a final, short closing subsection “Roundabout.” A short note in the back identifies the title poem’s namesake as product of blue laundry dye produced by the British firm Reckitt & Sons in 1852. This dye has also been identified as in use within ethnographic art contexts of both Papua New Guinea and Australia; which does in part imply the color represents the summoning of a world found within the very action of summing it up. Representative of the individual or group’s engagement with(in) environmental surroundings. Thus Wilkinson’s poem may be seen to approach the color as a point of departure for a meditation on visionary witnessing of things in the world.

Geese squalling shriek tight and wheel ,spiel
Their signature, perform their splash,

Stretch across the muscle that the sky tenses and
Relaxes then pulls in Outriders.
(“Reckitt’s Blue”)

This manages to be challenging reading. Breaching the limits of the ordinary without positing any higher order or realm than science allows, Wilkinson often comes on as a kind of secular seer.

Whatever is released ,it goes viral
In the most flail,

We are open we are open we are open, stars squawk,
We are the truth, the light.

Without forgetfulness these crowd the present cohort,
Ocean stops in salt starry ridges.
(“Reckitt’s Blue”)

All poetry begins and ends with the poet’s own experience. That individual experience must be enough to convince readers of the validity of which the poem speaks. Wilkinson gives us the evidence we need to believe his poem. And as a result of the more abstract, detached difficultness at times of locating ourselves within the perspective offered, we’re all the more thrilled with passages clearly grounded within the speaker’s experience.

Syllables! Syllables! My heart is in my mouth, I put
her foot in my mouth, my mouth was stopped, not that this
settled anything.
To be human is a syndrome
And no marker, no, not my tongue can wag that not-dog
Contraption,
The homeless arm drags,
Eye wanders from its orbit.
I lie in bed amidst the trickles, my candle blows out,
Tissue thickens and deposits they compress, they seem no
Longer mobile, the be-
Longing slips away,
The lung congests, say ah,
What memory, what gives?
It is the bat slips its fur.
The flying worm slips its skin.
The angel sheds its light, it is a baby
Balanced on the pan against the folds and corrugations,
Holding up
A pink pointed shoe, priapic but a sheath for my eye.
(“What Gives”)

It is in these moments Wilkinson most proves himself worth our attention.


Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at Gleeson Library for the University of San Francisco. His recent books include: from Book of Kings (Bird and Beckett Books), Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine (Spuyten Duyvil) and The Duncan Era: One Reader's Cosmology (Spuyten Duyvil). More from this author →