Book Review

POETRY MONTH: HEROIN HAIKUS by William Wantling

a gorgeous chapbook kicks off POETRY MONTH

cw: suicide ideation, unemployment, body image, drug use

Hello, October! That’s right: for those of you who read the heading above, this is POETRY MONTH here on TriumphOfTheNow.com, so get ready for a full month of my thoughts on some poetry I’ve read, along with the inevitable digressions, discussions, strange polemics and depressed asides (I still wish I was dead lol).

My relationship with poetry is a strange one.

I describe myself as a poet, which is particularly easy to do now I am unemployed (and have been for several months – I should probably get a job or something, I’m such a damned layabout hippie; no, actually I’m not a layabout, I do a lot of things, I keep very busy, many fingers and many pies, though, unfortunately, all of them are non-paying ones (non-paying pies (what’s a paying pie?))), so I don’t have to offer a follow-up to the classic response to “I’m a poet” of “What you do for money?” as atm I do nothing for money.

It’s quite refreshing to not have to feel obliged to pretend I’m comfortable with my external identity being wrapped up in some tedious administrative role I don’t care about, as right now (though probably not much longer, it would be good to have money so I can go on holiday and/or to Pret A Manger) I’m basically a full-time blogger, which is great tbh though obviously the lack of cash is a mild irritant (though less irritating than any job I’ve ever had).

I’m finally starting to get things in order, lifeadminwise: yesterday I finally got myself registered at a GP, which means I can get all my consciousness-numbing medications refilled, then after that I went and renewed my British Library reader pass, which means I can go and read ever more obscure and esoteric novels and poetry (though if I was going to read poetry in a library I’d head to the National Poetry Library on the Southbank, though I’m unlikely to do that as I’ve got a lot of poetry at home), I’ve managed to lose 10 kilos since I’ve been back in the country, which means I’m almost no longer officially overweight, and it will be lovely to see my body once that (my body) is back under control. I was once beautiful: maybe I can be again, though – if I am – it won’t be by the end of POETRY MONTH on TriumphOfTheNow.com.

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That’s right, it’s POETRY MONTH on TriumphOfTheNow.com.

It’s POETRY MONTH on

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It’s POETRY MONTH at TriumphOfTheNow.com.

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It’s POETRY MONTH on here at TriumphOfTheNow.com.

It’s POETRY MONTH: October, the cruelest month (I know that isn’t the month Eliot said is the cruelest month so maybe POETRY MONTH should have been April to riff on that, but I wasn’t really in the right headspace or time space to do POETRY MONTH on here at TriumphOfTheNow.com in April), poetry is cruelest month.

Maybe, if the quality of the poetry I read this month turns out to be low, then this will be the cruelest month, as reading things that aren’t good tends to make me more depressed, and also I’ll probably be mean about them on here and sometimes, I know, I know, I know, I shouldn’t, I can be cruel.

Most of the poetry that I have put aside to comment upon this October is contemporary, so the people who wrote it are almost suddenly alive and many of them are my mutuals on Twitter, so I may have to pull a few punches just for the sake of politeness – unless the writing is so so awful I can’t help myself, in which case I’ll just say what I need to say and wait for the repercussion comments about my books and blog and then be mean about the bad poet again in response and then they can be mean again and the beef can sizzle indefinitely. That’s poetry’s way.

This is why POETRY MONTH is starting here, a beef-free zone, as the poet William Wantling – the writer behind this 2016 republication of a 1966 micro chapbook – is dead, and has been for around a decade and a half longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m pretty old, so this – HEROIN HAIKUS – is a text from a different era of the world, albeit one that isn’t so different from the world we live in, in fundamental ways.

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First published in 1966, HEROIN HAIKUS is a short collection of roughly ten – I’m not going to count them, that feels dull – 17-syllable pieces describing autobiographical experiences from the life of William Wantling.

There is a biography of the author on the final page of this chapbook, which indicates that all of the things described in the haikus happened to the writer.

Wantling was a military guy discharged young with injuries, who became a heroin addict and petty criminal, then ended up in jail for an extended period due to crimes related to sourcing money for heroin.

After serving his jail term and becoming estranged from his first wife and child, Wantling moved back to where he grew up and went to university, turned his life around, ended up becoming an academic, then died at 40. Sounds like a good age to go!

In this piece writing, Wantling explores – in blunt, direct, language – the pleasures and horrors of addiction and incarceration.

In simple, terse, verse, he explores loneliness, not seeing his child grow up, the fun of intoxication, the potency and danger of socialising, and there is a clarity and openness throughout.

Included in the book, too, are illustrations by Ben Tibbs that are also from 1966.

This re-publication (decades after the poet’s death) was done by Tangerine Press, a hip (if très Gen X) London-based publisher, who put out some really beautiful books, many of which I have bought (though few of which I have read).

There will be more Tangerine Press chapbooks popping up this POETRY MONTH. They are all beautiful objects, neatly and intricately constructed out of thick card and paper. There is something almost intimidating about these gorgeous chapbooks as objects, which is why it’s taken me a while to get round to reading some of them.

Not all chapbooks are created equally: some (I’m not gonna name names this early in POETRY MONTH) feel and look like crap, but that’s ok, right? There is a thin line between a zine and a chapbook, but those produced by Tangerine Press are definitely beautiful pamphlets, rather than tatty punk zines.

I thoroughly enjoyed these HEROIN HAIKUS. I would quote from them, but there are so few words in this chapbook (because they’re all haikus, which is a short form of poetry, but you knew that, right?), that I would basically be showing you a very high percentage of the book as a whole were I to do so, and I am not going to become some kind of literary pirate.

I bought this from a small publishers fair in Peckham at the start of the summer.

Come back throughout October 2022 for more poetry comments, thoughts & responses!

order HEROIN HAIKUS direct from Tangerine Press via this link

September 8th, 2022

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