David Wilson

David Wilson

David Wilson lives in North Yorkshire and has been an active climber for many years. As well as poetry, he has written a novel, praised by the Times as a 'tour de force' and by the Daily Telegraph as 'wonderfully ironic...a kind of intellectual and emotional history of the times'. 


David Wilson – On Poetry and Climbing


Why climb? And where do you draw the line? These questions are perhaps on many minds as the aftermath of Everest’s busiest season yet explodes all over the news. On 22nd May more than two hundred climbers attempted to scale Everest, some so inexperienced that they didn’t know how to put on crampons. Words such as ‘carnage’ and ‘chaos’ have been used by those stuck on the mountain as two hour bottlenecks near the summit led to multiple deaths.

These reports on Everest come hot on the heels of Alex Honnold’s successful free solo of El Capitan, a climb of extraordinary skill and daring, which has been described as anything from ‘freakishly dangerous’ to ‘one of the greatest individual human achievements of all time’. The film Free Solo that documented Alex Honnold’s climb undoubtedly captured the public’s attention.

This question, ‘Why do it?’, is one that also pervades David Wilson’s incisive new book, The Equilibrium Line, a collection of poems that explore climbing in all its forms, from the plastic crimps of indoor climbing walls, to rock faces hundreds of millions of years old, and days-old icefalls that, now, increasingly never form at all.

These poems examine ambition, failure, risk and where to draw the line when climbing. ‘Decision time,’ writes Wilson in his poem ‘In the Balance’:

  Weigh the following:
an abseil retreat to blankets, pasta, beer;
the taste in your mouth if you bottle out;
November at work without a fix;
a glimpse of where the pitch might ease;
her face at a window, Dad come home

For poetry readers this book opens a window into the world of climbing, its joys, perils and motivations. For climbers it showcases poetry’s power to express and explore why we climb. 

David Wilson lives in North Yorkshire, UK. He has climbed extensively in the UK, Alps and further afield. David was led to poetry by a chance encounter with a stunning poem (Midsummer, Tobago by Derek Walcott) on the wall of a hospital waiting room. ‘Poetry is a form particularly suited to writing about the climbing experience,’ says David, ‘as both share an intensity and a focus on line, space and rhythm.’ David’s debut pamphlet Slope was published in 2016, and was described by Climb Magazine as illustrative that ‘great climbing poetry is not only possible, but that it is very much alive and well in the UK today.’

The collection’s title, The Equilibrium Line, refers to the altitude on an alpine glacier where snow gained (accumulation) is equal to ice lost (ablation). ‘I chose this title because these poems are preoccupied with what it means to find balance: on rock and ice, within ourselves, and within threatened mountain environments that are melting in front of our eyes,’ says David. 

The Equilibrium Line also explores what the draw of climbing might be in wider contexts, such as times of war, or in the face of environmental and personal loss. These poems ‘weigh each line, balancing risk against love, the latter realised in some of the most moving poetry I have read in recent years’ (Ian Duhig). 

As well as poetry, David has written short stories and a novel praised by the Telegraph as an ‘emotional and intellectual history of the times, both funny and perceptive’ and by the Times as a ‘tour de force’.

July 2019

On The Equilibrium Line:


To adapt the poet Michael Longley on technique, if most poets writing now were mountain climbers they would be dead.  David Wilson is another poet I admire who has become as sure-footed on the page as on the rock face. He weighs each line, balancing risk against love, the latter realised in some of the most moving poetry I have read in recent years. Technically adept with a great emotional range plus real engagement with and for this world, Wilson's first poetry book is a tremendous debut. – Ian Duhig


These poems bring back great memories. And I empathise with the questions some of the poems raise. – Chris Bonington


From Harrison’s Rocks to the top of Everest these poems put me back in the moment of being Doug Scott


On Slope: 

A brilliantly imagistic rendering of a place. The finding of likeness between Elvis and Everest ...is truly spectacular. – Paul Muldoon on ‘Everest’, which he awarded the 2015 Poets and Players Prize


Both Helen Mort’s No Map Could Show Them and David Wilsons’s Slope clearly show that great climbing poetry is not only possible – as Coleridge surely realised in his “state of prophetic trance and delight” when descending Broad Stand – but that it is very much alive and well in the UK today, well over two hundred years after that euphoric adventure on Scafell. – David Pickford, Climb Magazine

The Problem  

from The Equilibrium Line


As if it were an answer I drive North

past Pulpit Rock and Rannoch Moor 

to rendezvous below the Buchaille.

March. The coldest day for ten years.


Ice chokes our water bottles.

A frozen flapjack chips a tooth. 

I tie the figure-of-eight wrong,

stare down at the dumb knot.


Brittle with cold we swing and kick,

curse the hot aches, move up 

to belay high in the gully

below its chockstone pitch.

Forced onto the chasm’s left wall

I hook and teeter on smears of ice,

nearly barn-door, reach higher,

place my bet, fully exposed

until I'm clear and over the worst,

to gasp and tremble and roar

as my heart emerges from the cave

where it’s crouched all winter.




Feeding the Crow

im Dave Knowles


from Slope


Hughes’ Crow explained the world,
your father’s early stroke,

America in Iraq.

You translated words into rock,

gritstone cracks which hung in space,

hand-jams that bit our flesh.


You wanted steep, hard, cold,

a printer’s landscape of black and white,

and so to Nevis in February,


an unclimbed buttress in a storm.

Crow is loving this, you said.

Your dark eyes shone.


High in a vertical ice-choked groove

your crampons slipped and scraped.

I had no belay worth the name,


prayed to a kinder, weaker god

that we might get out of this alive.

Crow grinned and flew his black flag.  

Titles by this author


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