John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson
  • Department of English
  • Committee on Creative Writing
  • Director of Creative Writing
Taft House 301
(773) 702-2187
I am a poet and scholar of poetics who joined the English department in 2010. I serve as Chair of Creative Writing and of the Divisional Committee on Poetics, but am on research leave during the academic year 2017-18
My first collection of poetry, Useful Reforms, was published in 1976. My recent publications include Down to Earth (Salt, 2008), Reckitt’s Blue (Seagull Books 2013) and Ghost Nets (Omnidawn 2016). A selected poems, Schedule of Unrest, was published by Salt in 2014. My work is referenced in the standard guides and histories of recent British poetry and of Modernist poetry, and has been the subject of several published papers.
My critical publications include a collection of essays, The Lyric Touch (Salt 2007), which includes essays on poetics; on ‘Cambridge School’ poetry including J.H. Prynne, Denise Riley, and John James; and on American poetry, notably John Wieners. Subsequently I have published papers on George Oppen; the New York poets Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler and three papers on Barbara Guest; and a substantial paper on lyric titled “Repeatable Evanescence”.  I have also published on the British poet Barry MacSweeney, and additional papers on Prynne.
My present critical, scholarly and research work falls into three distinct but related areas. I am interested in supporting research work in these areas, in New York School poetry, and in recent poetic practice and theory. Beyond the three areas indicated below, I am also publishing papers on Andrea Brady, the persistence of the elegiac genre, and a further paper on John Wieners.
1.  British poetry and painting in the mid-century.  I have a paper in press on Dylan Thomas, but the chief focus of my attention is W.S. Graham. In particular I am interested in Graham’s relations with the St Ives painters Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Bryan Wynter, and the debates on abstraction and landscape which inform both the poetic and visual work. I am also interested in the bearing of these debates on concurrent debates in the US, particular as they bear on the painting of Willem de Kooning and the poetry of Barbara Guest.
2.  US-UK poetics relations in the 1960s and 1970s. I have a paper in press on Charles Olson and J.H. Prynne, drawing on their extensive correspondence, which will challenge the one-way model of influence from US to UK in this period. There is considerable scope for further study, notably in relations between Ted Berrigan and John James, and the intensive connections between British Marxist Feminist poets such as Denise Riley and Wendy Mulford and American poets including Alice Notley.
3.  Outsider Writing. I am a Principal Investigator, along with Matt ffytche who chairs Psychoanalytical Studies at the University of Essex, for an ambitious project on Outsider Writing launched in 2016, with its initial three years supported by the University of Chicago Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society. The project focuses on post-1945 writing by people with major mental illness (but within a longer historical perspective), taking account of the antecedents of mental illness in experiences of racism, immigration and other forces of social oppression and dislocation. It will develop an archive of primary and critical materials and aims ultimately to establish a research center. The first three years will consider Outsider theory as it is now developing, connections with Outsider (visual) Art, the politics of outsider status in the art and literary markets, and define the scope of the project more broadly. It will involve practitioners as well as scholars, through a grant from the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.
Among other activities, I chaired the planning group for the centennial conference on the great black Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks in April 2017. I am editing with Keston Sutherland of Sussex University a special issue of Textual Practice on the aesthetic turn in criticism, with an emphasis on the implications for pedagogy. My own contribution will consider the art writing of Adrian Stokes, which connects with research area 1 above.
My background is unusual in that until 2005 my career was in mental health services in the UK, as a nurse, a social worker, a housing development worker, a strategic planner and a public health professional. Although in management theory much lip service is paid to career flexibility, it is my experience that students considering an academic career don’t believe such talk, and with some reason. I’m happy to talk about the possibility and problems of sustaining an intellectual and creative life outside the academy and a creative life within it.


2016-17 courses: Autumn 2016, Poetics (graduate); Reading as a Writer (undergraduate). Spring 2017, Introduction to Poetry (undergraduate).

Graduate: Frank O'Hara and Friends; Thinking through Poetry; Poetics

Undergraduate: Special Topics in Poetry: Poetry, Sound, Voice; Advanced Poetry Workshop; How to Read Difficult Poems; Reading for Writers; New York School Poetry; British Poetry of the Long 1930s; Immigration and Deregulation in Recent British Fiction; Lyric Events and Objects

Flung Clear

Selected Publications


(Most of these titles include the contents of chapbooks published earlier by different presses.)

  • Ghost Nets. Oakland CA: Omnidawn 2016.
  • Schedule of Unrest: Selected Poems. Ed. Alex Pestell. Cromer: Salt Publishing, 2014.
  • Reckitt's Blue. London, New York and Calcutta: Seagull Books 2013.
  • Ode at the Gate of the Gathering. Brighton and London: Crater Press, December 2011.
  • Flung Clear: Poems in Six Books. Reissue of 1994 title. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2010.
  • Down to Earth. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2008.
  • Lake Shore Drive. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2006.
  • Proud Flesh. Reissue of 1986 title, intro. by Drew Milne. Cambridge: Salt Publishing,  2005.
  • Contrivances. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2003.
  • Effigies Against the Light. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2001.

The Lyric Touch


  • “Stone Thresholds”, Textual Practice vol. 31 no. 4, 2017, pp. 631-658.
  • “Drift and Pop: On Writing about W.S. Graham”, Poetry vol. 206, no.4, July/August 2015, pp. 427-433.
  • “Repeatable Evanescence”, Thinking Verse IV.i (2014), pp. 23-49.
  • “Silicon Versets at Work, Blue Slides at Rest” in ed. Joe Luna and Jow Lindsay Walton, On the Late Poetry of J.H. Prynne. Brighton: High Zero and Sad Press 2014, pp. 101-112.
  • "The Iron Lady and the Pearl: Male Panic in Barry MacSweeney's Jury Vet." In Reading Barry MacSweeney, ed. Paul Batchelor, 87-106. Newcastle upon Tyne: Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts with Bloodaxe Books, 2013.
  • About About: Ammons’s Garbage, Chicago Review 57:1/2, Summer/Autumn 2012, pp. 36-48.
  • Faults and Somersaults’ [on Shelley, Hart Crane and Prynne], Cambridge Literary Review Vol.III, No.6, Easter 2012, pp.125-134.
  • "‘Where Air is Flesh’: The Odes of Frank O’Hara." In Frank O’Hara Now. New Essays on the New York Poet, ed. Robert Hampson and Will Montgomery, 103-99. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010.
  • "Jim the Jerk: Bathos and Loveliness in the Poetry of James Schuyler." In On Bathos: Literature, Art, Music, ed. Sara Crangle and Peter Nicholls, 71-89. London and New York: Continuum, 2010.
  • "Glossing Gloss and Its Undertow" [on Barbara Guest]. Textual Practice 24:4 (2010): 749-64.
  • The Lyric Touch. Essays on the Poetry of Excess. Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2007.
  • "Contemporary Lyric and Epic Constraints: A Reading of Rob Halpern's Weak Link." Chicago Review 55:2 (Spring 2010).
  • "Heigh Ho: A Partial Gloss of Word Order." Glossator: Theory and Practice of the Commentary 2 (2010), special issue 'On the Poems of J.H. Prynne'.
  • "The Glass Enclosure: Transparency and Glitter in the Poetry of George Oppen." Critical Inquiry 36:2 (Winter 2010).
  • "'Couplings of such sonority': reading a poem by Barbara Guest." Textual Practice 23:3 (2009).
  • "Lost and Found in The Türler Losses" [on Barbara Guest]. Chicago Review 53-54:1/2 (Summer 2008).


B.A., University of Cambridge 1975. Ph.D., University of Cambridge, 2009. Teaching at Chicago since 2010.