Tony Williams, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street (Salt)
It is said that a drowning man resurfaces twice before finally going under. Salt Publications have renewed their appeal to 'Buy One More Book' and so might be saved one more time before it all becomes too much.
But what spectacular optimism it ever was to run a press publishing poetry titles, with what unbridled derring-do did they take on the prevailing book market even in favourable conditions. And so I found that I could buy a book I wanted anyway and make myself feel good about it at the same time. One can't honestly be too hopeful for Salt in the long term, though, because in the double-dip parlous economy of a swingeing government, poetry sales are likely to suffer before those of, say, bread or water. But at least I know I've bought myself some goodwill and that when I'm reduced to my last rhymed couplet, the poetry world will remember my charity and rush to save me, too.
But the benefit for now is, of course, all mine. Tony Williams is a poet who cannot do without rhythm and rhythm is to poetry what the ball is to football, you can't do poetry without it or at least it isn't so attractive if you try. It will have to be said sooner or later- so why not now- that Williams is a disciple of the school of O'Brien, a mentor, influence and even reviewer of this debut collection. And I think we say this is 'school of' Sean rather than hommage or pastiche although it might be worthy of discussion where one ends and the next begins. Not only the built-in rhythmic patterns not always part of a uniformly stressed line but also the celebrations of nowheres, the nothingnesses of existentialism more than the being, refer back to the more senior bard of Northern post-ennui. It is the title poem that impresses most at first, the
atonal effegies of hymns to praise
the rain, and Nowhere breaking loose.
but the collection seems to have built to an accumulated vision of dilittante discomfiture with a piling up of powerful poems towards the end, the Late Schoolboys reworking one of Donne's most famous bits, In Praise of Tinkering wasting time elegantly and the absences of Hammershoi being as good a place to end as any.
Before that, we have piled up riffs on such themes as Matlock, a birthplace that stays with Williams as birthplaces stayed with other poets, like Larkin's Coventry but in more detail, or Tuesdays, in which I hope the reference to European Club football makes gestalted use of the televised, mind-numbing pointlessness of the group stages so that it is the European Cup that is being over-stretched and not the poem. Gravel and sand are other subjects for metaphysical contemplation but Williams delivers a more compact and lyrical caress to his downbeat soul in My Love. Reproductive Behaviour of the Dark is another piece that brings to mind the art of unnoticed places, like the instalments of Rachel Whiteread that represented the spaces under furniture. It is the art of nowhere, the unconsidered and the elsewhere and it gathers power as it reflects upon itself, as in the night-time foxes that inhabit the 'day-forsaken alleyways' among
all the violence that goes
unreported or is shelved for lack of evidence.
So it's a great bonus to be allowed to think one is saving the poetry publishing industry single-handedly while, in fact, Salt's renewed appeal has done me a favour by prompting me to buy this engaging book. It will be something to look forward to when Tony Williams, further down his own neglected branch line, gives us his difficult second album. Good writers usually improve and become themselves, moving beyond their first impulses and motivations and Williams brings plenty of himself to his chosen methods, making it reasonable for us to assume that he is a poet likely to take a place among those worth following.