Dear Room, by Hugo Williams

Songs of innocence, experience and flickering nipples
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The Independent Culture

Hugo Williams's sequence of poems to lost love, Dear Room, is a kind of shorthand essay on mourning and melancholia, which takes up the narrative from where Billy's Rain left off. Rooms figure as a metaphor for things both held and lost - the "dear room" which holds him and his companion "suspended / half-way between heaven and hell". Here they have lived dangerously: "Love in that half-world // was a seabird's egg, tapered and weighted". Now, however, the loss of this dangerous half-world is acknowledged, but endlessly returned to. Substituted for it is the recovery of memories as poems. Love has now become a crazy room, "its stiffened velvet drapes hung upwards". Towards the end of the volume, Williams enters his workroom, disoriented. "Dear Room," he writes with a mixture of mock-heroism and defeat, "don't tell me you're tired too?/ You look terrible!"

The poems of Dear Room are written with the minimalism we have come to expect of Williams, and continue with the self-aware rouerie of his previous books. In "Party Tricks", "attentive breasts... sway back and forth / like cobras under cloth" and "nipples flicker on and off" and give their observer "ten out of ten". Despite the flickering nipples, there are some lovely poems of shared intimacies, as in "Tangles" where the speaker is "practising stroking your hair / the way you like it, / not running my fingers through it / and getting caught in the tangles, / just rubbing lightly over your head". Here the sting comes not only with the word practising, but when we realise that the head being stroked isn't the beloved's, but might only exist in the imagination, or even be the poet's own, or another lover's. It's hard in poems like this not to be charmed by Williams' grief, and his honesty. But from time to time the poems cross the line between poem and the personal anecdote which fails to be as important to the reader as it is to the writer. The book is poised and engaging, but there are fewer surprises than we might have come to expect of Williams. The off-key endings can feel like something has been let down, as well as lost. But the memorability of the volume lies a little too often not in the way of saying, but in the recognition of the poignancy of the feeling evoked. The volume ends with "Me and my girl / ... stepping out for the past" where the "memory dogs", are "all over me / to take them on the downs / for games with sticks". "Whatever made me think" he concludes, "I could live without them?"

Deryn Rees-Jones's 'Consorting with Angels', is published by Bloodaxe

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