'Inventive, academically aware, fearless and hugely enjoyable' -Nick Laird
About Luke Kennard
Luke Kennard is the author of numerous works of poetry and short fiction. His first collection of poems, The Solex Brothers, was published in 2005, and won him one of that year’s Eric Gregory Awards. His second collection, The Harbour Beyond the Movie, made him the youngest writer to be nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. He has since published two further full collections, and two pamphlets, one of which, The Necropolis Boat, was the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice in 2012. In addition to poetry, he writes criticism, short fiction, and is currently working on his first novel. He currently teaches English and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.
Kennard’s work is witty, extravagant and provocatively genre-bending. His first book, The Solex Brothers, consisted of six hilarious, highly energetic prose poems, whose modalities ranged from dramatic monologues, short fictions and dream narratives to Beckettian dialogues, passages of journalese, diaristic studies, and, in the volume’s Eliotic notes, some very funny cod-criticism (“I’m no fan of Eliot’s Great Tradition – which seems to have left us with lots and lots of really boring poems about old famous poets. Thanks a lot, keepers of the flame”). While such diversity might in other circumstances dilute a reader’s sense of a poet, Kennard’s poems are unmistakably his own. His skill and garrulity across a wide array of forms was extended in his third collection, The Migraine Hotel, demonstrating a propensity for politically-charged language-play in poems like “Army”:
Last week we had to fling a wall over a wall,
But we got the wrong wall:
We flung the wall over the wall
We were supposed to fling over the wall
We flung over that wall. It’s difficult to explain
Kennard’s Python-esque poems often elaborate surreal narratives, given a deadpan concreteness by excessively mundane details. “Chorus”, which can be heard on the site, describes a nightmarish visitation by a choir which will not leave the poem’s speaker alone: “One day the choir arrived without warning or explanation, / Sang the choir in four-part harmony, handing him toast.” Such lines illustrate Kennard’s remarkable facility for self-reflexive commentary. His poems often seem to derive their impetus for composition from an awareness of the impossibility of successful composition; in this sense, the opening of the monologue “[Jeremiah]” can be seen as a straightforward ars poetica: “Let’s say I already know this is going to fail. This’ll be easier if I try to give you an analogy. A parable.” The tendency to dramatise theoretical questions through parable is one shared with the great American poets John Ashbery and James Tate, but Kennard’s work differs from theirs in its exhibition of qualities which might be called “English”—endless self-deprecation, fidelity to grammatical and syntactical propriety, acute class-consciousness—which mark it out as something wholly distinctive.
As Kennard’s recording makes plain, performance adds an extra dimension to his poems’ meanings. In his highly expressive reading, the unpredictable narratives of his poems come to seem strange and inevitable, their unpredictable twists and turns grounded in the logic of a unique sensibility, which, as The Independent has described, “with urgency and generosity…addresses the world we live in now”.