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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Open Window: A Review

Joyce Williams died unexpectedly after a short illness in February 2009.  I met her at a literary festival in Winchester a few years back (2005) and had read some of her poems then.  We discussed them - I felt there was a real talent at work, though she had not been widely published.  After her death, her husband, David Williams, contacted me, as he was putting together a collection of her work for the wider world.  The result is Open Window, which is officially launched the end of this month.

As I wrote for the back, Williams is a fine and serious lyric poet able to charm the reader with her sense of place, and excellent ear, with an ability to evoke her beloved Somerset.  Some of the poems could have benefited from a little more editing, and a few are more for friends than a wider audience - but such things are hardly surprising given this is a posthumous gathering selected by a loved one.  This does not mean the book fails to rise above the self-published, poignant moorings it might appear to tug from gently - instead, in more than a clutch of impressive poems, Joyce Williams lifts out of the crowd of  unsung poets that crowd these isles, and offers writing that is genuinely achieved.  In poems like "In Passing", "Somerset Miners c. 1864", "The Bell Foundry" and "August" she follows in the traditional English line, and composes moving, subtly surprising, lucid poems.

In a more healthy publishing environment, this book and poet would have found a better-known publisher.  I find, working as a poetry tutor, that many older poets, who work in period styles with much talent and feelings and experiences worth hearing, are closed off from mainstream publishing because their styles are not in vogue.  Publishers tend to rather grandly urge poets before submitting to "read more poems" but poets like Williams have clearly read all the English canonical poets, and have been rather abandoned for being Georgian, when such writing - one thinks of Houseman or Edward Thomas especially - have charms and strengths few modern or postmodern manners can match.  Unironic, formal, and personal - true.  Deeply felt, humane, and touching - true, too.  I find myself - inundated with clever unemotive stylish poems from the young -  and myself often au courant - sometimes hungering after homelier fare.  Those interested can purchase the book online at SilverWood books.  I offer "August" below in full:

August

Some day this August will become a part
Of other Augusts past and those to come,
Compounded essences of summer's end.
And I'll forget the thought I think today
Belong to now and nowhere else in time;
For August is the same as it has been,
With same green berries turning in the hedge,
And lifeless hedgerow nettles blurred with dust
Of August traffic, happy-beachward bound.
Above dry fields that smell of hay the birds
Are silent, as they were in other years
And will be in the Augusts yet to come.
These things are August, and the same my thoughts:
How sad the pregnant pause at summer's end.

poem by Joyce Williams; originally published by The Lady
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