What Must Happen is Jeffrey Wainwright’s most intimate and elegiac collection of poems to date, recalling lost parents, relations and friends. Shared childhood memories, and the history of hometown Stoke-on-Trent, connect Wainwright’s personal themes to wider historical subjects. A sequence of contemporary hymns to Roman gods depicts Jupiter, ‘elbows on the bar, nursing a beer’, while a homage to twentieth-century Italian painter Ottone Rosai asks, twenty times, ‘What is there to an empty street?’ One answer: ‘the simply sunlit, / the clearly pure, / the assent to less’. Another: ‘plums / so prolific they colour out / the leaves’.
Rather than polarising the playful and the solemn, Wainwright’s poems examine their complex interactions. Though composed primarily in free verse, symmetries and refrains span the collection as a whole, imparting a tight, vibrant clarity. The poems in What Must Happen are painted with a hair-fine brush, swift and precise, unwilling to rest at an adequate fiction as long as an inadequate truth remains in reach. ‘There are these things and sometimes the shadow of these things / but they will not be seen apart.’