In 2007 Luke Kennard became the youngest ever poet to be shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection with The Harbour Beyond the Movie. At the time he was reported to have said “I’m on the shortlist with people I studied at A-level” (The Observer, 2007). His first collection, The Solex Brothers (Stride Books), was published in 2005, the same year he received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.
Born in Kingston Upon Thames in 1981, Kennard grew up in Luton. He holds a PhD from the University of Exeter and currently lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, specialising in teaching poetry and writing for the stage and screen. Kennard has written numerous works for the stage, including work performed by the theatre company Pegabovine as part of the National Student Drama Festival in 2003 and 2004 and at the Edinburgh Fringe. He also writes short stories.
When his third poetry collection, The Migraine Hotel, was published in 2009 The Independent described him as “a major talent” and Ian Macmillan in The Times as “unafraid of barriers and conventions”.
Kennard’s poetry has a strong absurdist link; David Bowden (Culture Wars, 2009) calls him the “fresh-faced poster boy of the New Absurdist movement”. His mixture of free verse and prose poems are linked by surreal themes and strong yet mysterious characters. In The Migraine Hotel we meet a particular favourite of Kennard’s, a wolf whose exchanges with the narrator take the form of satirical exposés over a series of poems. Kennard’s style blends the modern day fairytale with amusing philosophical comment. Always a highly entertaining story-teller and performer, Kennard infuses his work both with seriousness and humour, dealing with unusual subject matter and including unexpected twists to his tales. In ‘The Murderer’ (The Harbour Beyond the Movie) the poem’s narrator takes the murderer for coffee (glibly joking: “‘Make sure you don’t murder your coffee!’”), followed by a game of badminton, during which the narrator cannot help point out that “When he wins, I say, / ‘I guess you got yourself in pretty good shape / Murdering all those people.’ / I’m not about to let the murderer forget he’s a murderer.” In ‘The Best Man’, a prose-poem originally written as a speech for a wedding, we are first told of how, as a child, the groom got his tongue stuck in a door-lock. Rather unconventionally the speech then turns into a running commentary of a film the groom once showed to his film-class, which in turn is a commentary on the difficulties of convincing your bank manager to extend your credit because you have been diagnosed with depression.
The surrealist elements in Kennard’s work are perhaps a reflection of his own personality. In 2008, when asked by The Guardian “What made you want to write when you were starting out?” he replied “The desire to write a science-fiction epic, told backwards by eight unreliable narrators.”
Kennard is regional editor for Succour, a biannual journal of new writing and visual art. His criticism of poetry and theatre appears various publications, including The National, Poetry London and the Times Literary Supplement. In 2010 he judged the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award.
The Solex Brothers, Stride Books, 2005 (reprinted by Salt, Cambridge, 2007)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie, Salt Publications, Cambridge, 2007
The Migraine Hotel, Salt Publications, Cambridge, 2009
Planet-Shaped Horse, Nine Arches Press, Rugby, 2011
Luke Kennard’s collections are published by Salt
An interview with Luke Kennard in The Guardian
An interview with Luke Kennard by Caroline Bird