John Hartley Williams

John Hartley Williams died on 3 May. His last collection, The Golden Age of Smoking, was published in April.

Poem: ‘I Inspect the Storm’

John Hartley Williams, 22 May 2014

Is that geezer in a suit really a weatherman? He’s dry as a dead tooth and shiny. The prince rides a boat down the lane. Grab his pearls of vapour. Ask him what he does when his bushes rage and bending firs threaten his roof.

No, don’t bother. Clouds have engulfed the earth. Wind tears branches off trees. Light has been removed and I’m alone on a hilltop with flashes of...

Poem: ‘My Way’

John Hartley Williams, 3 March 2011

I was delighted to be taken out and shot. It made my day.

The following week I was savagely attacked by a gang of what would have been ruffians, but for my welcoming courtesies. They beat me up and left politely. I was charmed. On Friday I was exquisitely arrested, divinely humiliated at my place of work, forced to acknowledge the theft of a period of time in numerous small increments of...

Poem: ‘The Kirmes Parade’

John Hartley Williams, 8 July 2010

The flies are devoted to this appassionata. The church tower has magnetised the mob. Nothing but jugglers, stilt-walkers, flame-spitters, the thrashed bells’ lingering throb.

Why do they all love that farcical clanging? Christ, we were going to stay in bed today! It feels as if the world is splitting open. They’re putting all its molecules on display.

Witchcraft’s what we...

Poem: ‘Memory of the Night of 4’

John Hartley Williams, 11 March 2010

after Victor Hugo

Two bullets to the head, the child had taken. It was a clean, honest, humble, quiet place. In blessing, above a portrait, hung a palm cross. His aged granny stood there, trembling, lost. In silence, we removed his clothes. His mouth hung open, pale, the eye-life drowned in death. Each arm fell useless from its socket. A boxwood spinning top came spinless from his pocket. You...

Poem: ‘My Real Name is Stanley Kubrick’

John Hartley Williams, 9 April 2009

It was Thursday and the skeletons were out dancing as was their custom in the beetroot and the wintry sun shone down on their fragile paleness and the earth crunched under bony feet.

No film made by actresses with bad breath could rival their dialogues of ‘Boo!’ and ‘Gotcha!’ In this film scripted by a weather forecaster everyone misremembered their lines.

What ought...

Poem: ‘The Blind Dog’

John Hartley Williams, 3 July 2008

In the Hotel Egalitarian the taps drip, here are containers to catch the water, the bath tub is big enough to hold a dog, but the dog is blind and bumps its nose against the taps and the beds are too short.

In the Hotel Egalitarian the grapes festoon the balconies from which it is forbidden to make wine. don’t make wine from the balconies it says in large letters. The liquor is lethal,...

Two Poems

John Hartley Williams, 7 June 2007


O America, I feel like Superman going weak from proximity to Kryptonite Something has spread a small Donatello of urine Over the tessellated floor of the execution chamber ‘It’ll all be over in a flash,’ they murmur Be quiet this morning, America, be quiet Is this the telephone call of my last-minute reprieve?

‘In America when someone says “I feel...

Two Poems

John Hartley Williams, 16 November 2006

Near Luton Airport

Its crest should bear a drinker kneeling, weeping in an hourglass: The Wigmore Arms is not convivial; its smeary panes admit October sun. On the wall, a picture of a tree whose earth is ceiling.

Was it spite? Revenge? Or for a laugh? Simple inattentiveness? Or was his face on upside down, the man who screwed it there? frown! you are on camera! ‘A member of our...

Two Poems

John Hartley Williams, 7 September 2006


Why do you write poetry?

Petals, aardvarks, goulash – there is no end to it.

I’m sorry . . . ?

I, too, am sorry. I am sorry for Petula Misericordia, her unrequited love for Dan Splendid, the mishap with the steam traction engine, for the question that comes next.

Obviously poetry is a passion to you?

By no means. What is it, after all – a collection of...

Poem: ‘On the Money’

John Hartley Williams, 9 March 2006

(Art’s story)

When I was young, I coveted the money and the woman, kept coaxing busy blood drops from my reluctant thumb, grumbled out the spell-cracked poems of a sorcerer’s apprentice.

No rich. No fetch the ladies, either. Then I saw an ad: ‘Join La Table Ronde,’ it said, ‘accrue the benefits of debt.’ I wrote for details. A pile of bumf arrived, a...

Poem: ‘Requiem for a Princess’

John Hartley Williams, 22 September 2005


A penguin, a donkey, a piano. Their tinkle-plonky grief.

A station trolley rumbling over pavement slabs carries the deceased.

Black hearse, black iceberg in a warm dissolving ocean, it sails toward the gulf that it will occupy.

The flag is folded small, the folding of a child. Smoothed from the national laundry is a crease.

The penguin. Its raised beak. Its self-important air. An advice...

Poem: ‘Dan Dare at the Cosmos Ballroom’

John Hartley Williams, 8 July 2004

amor vincit omnia

Venus lies ahead – ball of mists and disenchanted fruitfulness, too hot for charity, too steamy for reproach, my mission crystalline as snow: to conquer what has always conquered us. Airlock doors slide open. They reveal the Mekon, president of Love Unexpurgated, a peagreen Humpty Dumpty on a flying plate, vestigial legs suggesting toxic misadventures at the antenatal...


The Shudder

13 May 2010

If I read Frank Kermode right, he prefers Shakespeare to Dante (LRB, 10 June). I hope he does, anyway. Quite apart from the fact that Dante in English has flat feet, there is all that theological mumbo-jumbo to be navigated, not to mention the biographies of uninteresting personages. I only have restaurant Italian, but it’s obvious to me that Dante must be read in that language.The ‘shudder’,...

Out of the blue

Mark Ford, 10 December 1987

So characteristic of Paul Muldoon’s poetry as to be almost a hallmark is the moment, unnerving and exciting in about equal measures, when his speaker is suddenly revealed to himself as...

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