Magazine article The Spectator

Benedictions and Clichés

Magazine article The Spectator

Benedictions and Clichés

Article excerpt

DEAR ROOM by Hugo Williams Faber, £8.99, pp. 55, ISBN 0571230377

The poems of Hugo Williams used to puzzle me; they were so simple I couldn't make them out.

Autobiographical, yes -- nothing wrong with that, usually -- but more overtly so than most. He watched himself, but also watched himself watching. Perhaps it was the prose column he has written for years in the Times Literary Supplement that gave the clue. That, too, is autobiography, pared, carefully judged; even when he describes someone else -- wasn't there a woman he came across in a market who sold tea-cosies she had knitted, so that one day she could buy herself a flight on Concorde? -- Williams (son of an actor) is on stage with her, not quite centre-stage, certainly not in the best light, but nevertheless there. It is a way he has found for writing what he wants to write, and nobody else does it in quite this way.

In his poems, at their most successful, he seems to have perfected this art of minimalist suggestion. Consciously unliterary, seldom using rhyme, his language is uninflated, his rhythms of ordinary speech.

His poems read as if they are translated from a language we wish we knew, and which he doesn't know either, but is humble before it. He makes clichés work for him, weighed and placed with a steely diffidence that makes them almost marmoreal.

For example, 'Helter-Skelter' is, appararently, about just that, 'spiralling out of the water / on Brighton's Palace Pier'. (Is there one? You have to be careful with Williams, he has a touch of the surreal about him. ) He goes down it with a girl (presumably; he is usually with a girl, or sadly trying to find one he has lost). …

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