Poet of Honour: Hugo Williams

Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, has celebrated our best contemporary poets so far in its first portfolio. These are the poets we should have read by now. If you have not by now, then please catch up with them. The culture matters, but poetry matters even more! These poets are iconic and our major inspiration. This is an essential assemble of poets. Sod Marvel or DC; these are the real superheroes of poetry!



I will always treasure my long conversation with Hugo Williams. It was overlaid in the noise of a book-launch party at poet Sarah Wardle’s flat. Hugo is hardly wordy in expressing himself, and as in his extensive output of poetry, he is a soft poet who has been spot on with his clarity of expression, a demand that he has constantly subjected himself of in his poems. He doesn’t like my penchant for experiments. So, he will never publish me. That’s okay. He tells me; it is something that Byron would do. For Byron, I would stop there with experimentation! I laugh. His clarity, which could harbour a poetic tradition, also extends to clear views on poets and editors we discussed. On my receiving an MBE, he commented, you have arrived. Well, whatever that means, my experience remains unique: I remain an outsider.

Billy’s Rain, a ‘darkly funny’ account of an extra-marital love affair that ‘had ended’, won him the T. S. Eliot prize, followed by the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry. The readers who prefer an emotional outpouring over a well-tuned poem were dismissive at Goodreads! It raises a question: why must poetry surrender to such emotional demands? In his poems, we journey into a self-reflective style that may seem simple, but you are never away from some elements stirring and lurking as an undercurrent allowing us to experience something complex. Through his “I”, he is not in the business of unloading his wisdom on us; instead, he offers a candid study of himself, wry and witty in delivery. It is said that with his milieu in theatre, he can be theatrical with his lines! I am not looking for that tone; hence, I don’t find that theatrical performance there. Recently, I read his poem in our iconic, my blind recommendation, The London Magazine, where light plays tricks. Maybe that is the drama!

There have been copyright issues and so, sometimes my choices of poems have been limited, but my Poets of Honour have, undoubtably, confirmed their unquestionable craft. With Hugo, I salute them all.

Goodbye for now

With this New Year extra on Hugo, I am bowing out fleetingly. The first portfolio of the ‘Poet of Honour’ has been a great success and has taken poetry to parts other such beers have not! Such curtain call leads to other projects, and I invite you to join me at the in-person Poetry in the Park event to defy Covid-19 to meet me along with one of our extraordinary Poet of Honour Martina Evans and one of the exciting young poetic voices of the day Tristram Fane Saunders, in a unique park that features in my recent poetry collection, The Rapids, which I hope you have got hold off! Did I say Byron earlier? Well, to celebrate his birthday, please book your place here.

-Yogesh Patel MBE


Poems by Hugo Williams

Blue Angel

With what tender brave wounds
her version of Blue Angel
sheds unlikely tears,
welling in sudden waves
from some forgotten source.
The piano’s rippling sobs
answers each helpless phrase
as if they were my own.
0 night of fading fields
and children’s sleep,
become that blessed place
where broken songs are mended,
I would pay good tears
to hear blue angel smile.


The Story So Far  

man standing on tree branch during sunset
Photo by Lukas Rodriguez on Pexels.com

At this point in the story
all we can say for sure
is that one of us goes on ahead
to explore the difficult terrain
where everything remains to be seen,
while the other stays home,
tossed this way and that
on the cross-currents of memory.
There’s no such thing as a plot.
We climb up into the fork
of the tallest tree
and kick the ladder away.
We can see clearly from here,
but we may need some help with the ending.


THE HALF-OPEN DOOR

green plants
Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Walk along slowly
letting the rain come down
on head and shoulders,

or turn up my collar,
make a dash for it
and get wet all over?

Such were my thoughts
as I opened the front door
and almost went outside.

I feel like braving the weather
and making the most
of a free morning,

but the light has changed
and the air feels colder now
in the half-open door.

Hat or umbrella?
Raincoat or windbreaker?
It’s hard to be sure

when the sun is shining
and rain is falling
from a clear blue sky.

Getting ready to go out,
time passes quickly.
Suddenly it’s too late.


The Spare Room

We go back a long way, you and I,
on a mattress in the back of a van,
being thrown back and forth
on the bumpy Welsh roads,
but having to wait
till we got to your parents’ house
where we were supposed to be staying the night
before somebody’s wedding.

You showed me into a freezing spare room
with a single iron bedstead,
`just to see the look on your face’,
then burst out laughing.
We go back a long way, you and I.
I wish we could go there now.

<strong>Hugo Williams</strong><br><br>Williams’s poems engage themes of childhood, personal memory and sexuality with a plainspoken yet wry voice. In an interview with The Guardian, Williams discussed the autobiographical element of his work, stating, “You really can't start if you're not going to be completely honest. “<br><br>Williams is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including West End Final (2009), Collected Poems (2002), Billy’s Rain (1999), which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, Selected Poems (1989), and his Eric Gregory Award–winning debut, Symptoms of Loss (1965). A selection of his freelance writing appears in the essay collection Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet (1995). His additional honours include the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Cholmondeley Award. His most recent book is Lines Off.
Hugo Williams

Williams’s poems engage themes of childhood, personal memory and sexuality with a plainspoken yet wry voice. In an interview with The Guardian, Williams discussed the autobiographical element of his work, stating, “You really can’t start if you’re not going to be completely honest. “

Williams is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including West End Final (2009), Collected Poems (2002), Billy’s Rain (1999), which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, Selected Poems (1989), and his Eric Gregory Award–winning debut, Symptoms of Loss (1965). A selection of his freelance writing appears in the essay collection Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet (1995). His additional honours include the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Cholmondeley Award. His most recent book is Lines Off.




To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

Cyril Dabydeen

Tishani Doshi

Martina Evans

Sinéad Morrissey

Moniza Alvi

Ian Duhig

Raymond Antrobus

Keki Daruwalla

Mona Arshi

Christopher Reid

Ruth Padel