Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Hugo Williams, Self-Styled Anglo-American Poet

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Hugo Williams, Self-Styled Anglo-American Poet

Article excerpt

A pesar de que su poesia da toda la impresion de ser principalmente 'inglesa', Hugo Williams se considera un poeta 'anglo-americano'. Esta sorprendente afirmacion se basa en su entusiasmo por la cultura popular americana asi como en la construccion de un estilo a partir de estrategias imagistas, 'objetivistas' y confesionales. En este articulo se examinan ambos elementos del epiteto anglo-americano a la luz del trabajo del poeta, lo que lleva a la conclusion de que la afirmacion de Williams es indefendible pero al mismo tiempo reveladora de algunas corrientes existentes en la cultura literaria inglesa.

Palabras clave: Anglo-americano--imagista--objetivista--confesional--modernista--minimalismo --hibridismo

Although his poetry gives every appearance of being pre-eminently 'English', Hugo Williams claims he is an 'Anglo-American' poet. This surprising assertion rests on his enthusiastic embrace of American popular culture as well as the construction of a style out of American Imagist, "Objectivist" and Confessional strategies. Both elements of the epithet Anglo-American are examined in relation to the poet's work and in the process Williams' claim is shown to be unsustainable, yet at the same time highly revealing of currents within English literary culture.

Keywords: Anglo-American, Imagist, "Objectivist", Confessional, modernist, minimalism, hybridity


It is easy to see why Thom Gunn would be happy to call himself "an Anglo-American poet" (1994: 218). After finding his voice within the Movement, a formally-traditional, self-consciously 'English' group, he emigrated permanently to the States, adopting for much of his free verse American subject-matter and an approximation of Carlos Williams' American idiom (Campbell 2000: 28, 30, 37-38). However, although Hugo Williams was converted to modern poetry through reading Gunn and wrote his first volume, Symptoms of Loss (1965), in imitation of Gunn's "tough, confident" Movement manner (Feay 1995: 32), he would be the last poet in contemporary England, one would have thought, on whom the label Anglo-American could be pinned. Yet this is precisely what Williams himself has sought to do. While he would, no doubt, concede that his verse is markedly 'English' in tone, values and themes, he would nevertheless point to a simultaneous American dimension, deriving from the way his writing practices have been shaped by that country's literary and popular culture. However, it is my contention that this belief derives from a creative misreading of American literature and life, which reveals more about England and its poetic affiliations than it does about any actual social or cultural context on the other side of the Atlantic. In consequence, this essay will reserve the majority of its comments for the English significance of Williams' position.

Approaching the poet by means of his forenames, one can readily grasp why Hugh (Hugo) Mordaunt Vyner Williams might be regarded as a quintessential representative of a certain type of upper-middle-class Englishman. These forenames could have been even more formidable had Laurence Olivier got his wish of having the boy christened Torquemada (Williams 1995: 145). Williams' father, Hugh, gained fame in pre-war "English drawing-room comedy and ... old movies where chaps had stiff lips, stiff moustaches and the upper crust apparatus--from top hats to gardenias in button holes". This "suave irascible dandy from Edwardian times" (de Jongh 1985) even tried to maintain the pose in letters home from the desert campaign:

   I dare say I shall be pretty bloody exquisite for quite some time
   after the war--silks and lotions and long sessions at the

      (Williams 2002: 102. Italic in the original)

During the 50s he and his wife, the Parisian model-turned-actress Margaret Vyner, co-wrote the kind of frothy upper-middle class comedies Osborne is credited with driving from the London stage (2002: 198-202, 215-17). …

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