Devawn Wilkinson assembles words with enviable ease. Drawing on her skill as a playwright, she creates moments of human interaction that feel both universal and highly personal. The London-based poet joins us today for the ongoing Two Poems series.
Poem for No One – Devawn Wilkinson
Devawn Wilkinson reads What’s That by Anne Sexton
Why did you choose the Anne Sexton poem?
It’s one of the most recent poems to become one of my favourites. Usually it takes a long time for me to love a poem, but the first time I heard it I took to it. I feel like it is about being watched by something, like a sense of paranoia, something about history or about your past or a memory that is present. You can’t quite look at it, but it follows you. I reminds me of A Birthday Present by Sylvia Plath. They’re kind of twin poems. They both have that sense that something is there, is present. The one line ‘Something that I know I know’ sums up the whole poem. Something just out of reach that is a source of fear, yet also nostalgia. It all collides in the poem. Something called back from time. It’s like the sense of déjà vu that you get sometimes. The knowledge that you’ve never been somewhere before pervades the whole poem.
To you find yourself influenced by Sexton and Plath in your own poetry?
One of my favourite things about both poems, though more Plath is her language. She often uses very clinical language. Even though she was a patient, she often talks like a doctor talking to a patient. It’s cold, formal and sterile. I don’t usually write like that, but after reading a lot of Plath I found it interesting to take deeply emotional, difficult things and completely invert them by being very cold. The contrast there is quite difficulty to listen to, which is what I find so interesting about it.
And your poem. You mentioned that it was a poem you had shirked off and returned to recently…
Yes, well it’s called a Poem for No One. Often I write poetry that is lazily autobiographical, but this came from a series of images and phrases that I wanted to throw together. The meaning is mixed up in the poem. It’s a difficult poem as it is for no one, it doesn’t have an obvious bearing.
I wanted to use the idea of deciding someone’s life for them. It’s the difficulties of life pushed on to the template of a person. I think it’s a slightly distressing poem. It could be addressing you or everyone. It is like the threat of something happening.
Let’s talk about MAP. How did it come about?
I’m speaking as a subordinate here! I met my friend Will [Tucker] a couple of years ago and he had the idea to put together a poetry publication for our university. It got pushed back further and further and then we decided that it shouldn’t just be for the university, more for the city. We realised that we were young poets and that others must be out there.
The MAP idea came from a desire to have the publication sit separate from any other publications coming out of the university. We wanted it to be different. Each one folds out like a map, so there is a sort of house style emerging that binds them all together.
What’s the next step?
More! We did a few films and podcasts of poets reading bigger sections of their work. We want to get poetry off the page!
Devawn Wilkinson is a poet and playwright based in London and is part of the team behind the brilliant MAP Poetry magazine.