JOHN WHITWORTH, POET
I liked John Whitworth. He had an impish way of annoying the powers that be, and a realistic assessment of his own gargantuan abilities. Some of his early work, bursting on the scene as it did in the 1980s, seemed an awkward mix of unconventional rhyme and intent, but was followed almost immediately by that waterfall of wonderful stuff, of which we ave been the grateful recipients.
Such a variety of form and meter, subject and point of view! What richness of vocabulary and inventive rhyme! For the rest of his life, John continued to crank out a great variety of serious, whimsical, and rollicking ridiculousness such as I believe the poetry world has ever seen. Shortly, he was beginning to rack up what amounted to more poetry prizes than anyone else in recent English poetry prize-giving. To say he is “better than” Ogden Nash, for instance, would be a gross understatement.
Whitworth’s abilities not only skate on the surface of light verse, they also dive beneath the waves to encounter the great pillars of foundational angst. Think of the many sly, sharp and cynical digs he makes at our world at its worst; the unutterably sad and justifiable pathos of his darker works.
Few have been his equal -- he has been superior to scores of others who tried to scale the Everest of what he encountered every day. He understood and sympathized with the ironies of our existence; made them seem interesting.
Whitworth loved words, but better than words, he loved lists. I think of such gems as The Footfall Of A Moth, from his book Joy In The Morning.
This poem starts with a long list of imperceptible sounds which gradually grow louder and more all-encompassing, only to end in a great silence, followed by a static stillness – when love is gone, when love is gone, when love is gone. Haunting.
In short, standing high in the weeds of ordinary poetic expression, I believe Whitworth will long remain a cornucopia of the varied seeds of poetic expression. The more you read of him, the more you will want to read.