Olive green cover with a painting of Brighton's West Pier across the central part, and pale yellow lettering above and below thisThe West Pier, Hugo Williams

New Walk Editions, 2022       £5.00

Simple and visual

Hugo Williams is an esteemed poet, who won the T.S. Eliot Prize with Billy’s Rain (1999) and was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal (2004).

In The West Pier he looks back at his life from the vantage point of older age, musing on absent friends and lost landmarks, and citing cultural references to illuminate a character or place. The poetry is refreshingly clear and concise. It’s measured, wry and visual. This allows the work to breathe and shine. It’s also conversational, inviting the reader to muse on the human condition. On the Poetry Archive website Williams’ advice is cited: ‘Keep it simple and make it visual.’

A reflective mood is established in the first poem, ‘Leaving Faces’, by using repetition and the economy of three-line stanzas. It's also very visual. Bright young things, ‘like riders on a golden galloper,’ ‘now blasted and frail’ ‘sway to and fro / on the gibbet memory.’

The tone changes in ‘A Brilliant Trick’ where the poet plays with the villanelle form to explore the complexities of illness and how to cope with ‘the way healthy people carry on’. The stanzas are comedic in their end rhymes and repetitive form, coming to a wry concluding finale. I was reminded of Wendy Cope’s style in the wit and poking fun.

The poem ‘i.m. Tara Browne (1945-1966)’ muses on a tragic life lived at full pelt. Williams references cultural objects and figures, the ‘cursed’ Lotus Elan (in which Tara Browne died), a Formula Three race, two influential Beatles’ albums and Browne’s friend, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and his ‘sickly glow’ to infuse the poem with appropriate energy.

You danced on the accelerator.
You didn’t notice the lights had changed,
but spun the car around
to protect your girlfriend
and went to face the music on your own.

I’ve never been to Brighton, but the West Pier and its fate come vividly alive in ‘i.m. The West Pier (1866-2003)’. It’s a rueful lament for a Grade I listed ‘line of poetry / flung out to sea on a whim.’ Wonderfully simple and visual.

Maggie Mackay