Hugo Williams has been writing elegantly crafted and accessible poetry for over fifty years. His tone of voice today is not appreciably different from the one that first asserted itself in the 1960s. He hasn’t lost the comic timing that has been a hallmark of his work since the beginning. He can sometimes court the sentimental but knows precisely and wittily how to keep it at bay. He is a keen observer of his own, and other people’s, behaviour (a novelistic gift he shares with Larkin and Hardy), and many of his poems tell stories in miniature.
His latest collection, Lines Off, opens with a touching dedication to his granddaughter Silver in the form of an italicised poem expressing gratitude for inspiring him to write again after a longish silence. He watches her as she draws with a broken crayon, grinding it into the paper. He realises that he has to take up his pen and give his thoughts expression once more: ‘I moved my hand up and down,/round and round,/in a series of scribbles and scrawls,/which turned out/something like this.’ I must be only one of his many admirers who are pleased that he did, since this new book shows him in sparkling form.
Williams has never made any bones about his privileged background, accepting it simply as yet another fact of life. His father, Hugh, was a successful actor and his mother wrote light comedies in collaboration with her husband in the 1950s and 1960s. His early collections are crammed with