Friday, January 15, 2010

Tony Williams

Tony Williams is a poet and academic based in Sheffield, UK.

His first full collection of poems, The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street, was published by Salt in 2009.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
More and more I appreciate clarity, or a kind of clarity, in what I read. For years I'd put off reading Kafka, because of his reputation for being 'difficult' and 'enigmatic' (it sounded like one of the the more boring strains of modernism). Then recently I picked up my battered copy of The Castle. It's so easy (and funny). Of course it's impossible to work out what's 'really' going on – because nothing is. It's all the clean, hard surface of events, all story.

Knut Hamsun's Growth of the Soil has the same virtue. If I describe it it'll sound awful – 'this year Isak bought a new cow, and here's how it happened', and so on. Hamsun has the most iron-willed restraint, never commenting, never interpreting. He just says what happens. Who would have thought that the story of a smallholder's life could be so affecting and – yes – gripping? It's a masterpiece.

Meanwhile I've been zipping intermittently through a selection from Francis Kilvert's diaries. Kilvert was a nineteenth-century clergyman who lived in rural Wiltshire (in the UK), and died young. It's an odd, sympathetic, estranging piece of work. For instance, Kilvert's description of a dream he had (in which he thinks a local vicar and his wife are trying to murder him, so kills the vicar himself and hacks the body up) reminds us that the Victorians were as complex as we are, probably more so.

And, speaking of hacking the body up, I'm halfway through John Berryman's The Dream Songs, having been drawn into it by an unforgettable recording of Berryman reading Dream Song 29, drunk, on BBC television. Like most poets, Berryman's work reads better in quantity than taking individual poems in isolation. I'm so envious of the form (three stanzas of six lines, loosely rhymed) and the conceit (they're dream songs, so they can say anything). He does so much with the same few resources. It's not big on clarity, though...
Read poems from The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street, and visit Tony Williams's website and poetry blog.

--Marshal Zeringue