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Longlisted For The Portico Prize. Potter down to The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street and find a strange landscape opening up before you: the city's dishevelled edge of huts and fallen fences slides towards a sullen and uncanny countryside.
Elegant, intelligent, charming and accessible, these poems reinvent the pastoral for dark times. They peddle dreams and nightmares, hollow laughter, elegy and joy, and use a spectrum of forms and tones from the prosaic to the metrical, from wry cynicism to high rhetoric.
Meet botanists, bastards, predators and prayers, the feckless and the dead, a lecherous Polish priest and Prospero as a game old bird, cigar in hand, mourning the proliferation of oiks like you. Pop in for a drink at the pub of the rural damned, dodge deranged farmers and deluded incomers, and make for the county town with its closed cinema and publicly-owned Scotch eggs. Find an eyeball in a wooden box. Discover the moral character of sand and gravel, play a quick hand of piquet and lie awake all night listening to the Dark shagging in the garden of a city terrace.
The poems in The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street are original and allusive, serious and funny. Their wit and charm plot new routes through familiar landscapes.
‘These poems marry a range of technical skills with powerful imagination and wit. They are powerfully evocative of people and places and, in turn, both playful and moving. Tony Williams can combine memorable lines with metrical accomplishment – here is a new name that deserves to be noticed.’ —Robyn Bolam
‘His poetry wears its erudition and breadth of poetic reading lightly, and this is the key, I think, to what makes him so interesting as a poet. He has a way of taking an obsession with (say) mode, and finding ways to explore it, misapply it, burrow through it, producing poems which seem both intimate and epic; seem to occur in a place which is domestic and real, whilst also seeming to be located in an entirely uncontained place, partly of history and partly of the imagination. Too often, poets decide to ‘have a go’ at something (a form; a mode; an ‘after’ poem), and stop at a successful deployment; Williams wants to possess it, and to bring it into some other state.
I like his poems for their strange beauty, and for the way in which they find intimate and unblinking truths in highly poetic strategies and material; for how they arrive in the reader’s mind with a lovely clarity of line; for their frequent wit and laconic take on both life and the poetry which tries to find an answer to life; and for their fearlessness in the face of debates about register, diction, rhetoric.’ —James Sheard
‘Tony Williams’ first book gives a cunning impression of limitless invention – rooted in considerable rhetorical mastery, this is a far more engaging achievement than mere limitless invention, which any dreamer can experience on a nightly basis, and lesser poets approach by not knowing when to shut up. He turns with great suppleness from register to register, tone to tone, seeking out a novel perspective which always sounds entirely his own. A dead giveaway that he is doing all this on purpose is the fact that he can accomplish such feats in extremely short pieces as well as a number of impressive longer poems, and whether he works more formally or explores the prose poem. Death and the North, the eroticism of books, Tuesday, several trout – his cast of subjects perform extraordinary feats with their sleeves rolled neatly up and a deadpan expression (particularly the trout, obviously). European sensibilities are evoked only to be undermined in search of their less-expected ores. Vigorous digging in Rilke, for instance, means a fine poem emerges blinking, as well it might, in Matlock. Williams understands that wit, much as it may delight the reader, is always melancholy. The result is a voice with a unique lyric heft, its subtle praise-making poised between pity and dislocation.’ —W.N. Herbert
‘With virtuosity and brio, the poems blend the English lyric tradition with the styles of European and, in particular, German writers from Goethe to Gottfried Benn, developing a decorative yet tightly metered free verse as capable of witty evocation of complicated landscapes as of subtle, plainspoken pathos. Williams often uncovers precise metaphors too: in “Great Edwardian”, a snapshot of imperialistic arrogance, an English gentleman is brilliantly transformed: “a cockpheasant on the steaming muckheap: / Prospero admiring all”. But while it provides a means of unearthing what one of the dustjacket blurbs calls “intimate and unblinking truths”, the drawback to all this blazing wit is that it can begin to feel a little false. “This poem is to celebrate the large buildings / gravel makes possible”: Williams’s occasionally glib approach may find significance in the insignificant, but not much. Yet in a collection of such scope, ambition and originality, these sorts of failings are admirably few. The hard-won Frostian ease of “The Fence”; the moving, epigrammatic “For My Brother”; the magnificent survey of “Reproductive Behaviour of the Dark”: Tony Williams is a poet of enviably varied talents, and The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street is an inventive, incisive first book.’ —Ben Wilkinson
‘Williams is ever alert to the wildness and decay that are waiting to rush back in and reclaim what is rightfully theirs, as in the excellent title poem, which ends with a vision of "Nowhere breaking loose". For middle-class paranoids in search of what Frost called "a momentary stay against confusion", this is terrifying. But alongside that something-in-the-woodshed feeling comes a strange contentment. Compared to a politicised mansion house, the humble garden shed is a place of safety, a retreat from the demands of the all-singing, all-dancing world, where gentle, amateur pursuits such as knocking together a table or brewing your own beer happily serve no purpose. Williams is giving us a glimpse of a different kind of Prospero, on a different kind of island. As "In Praise of Tinkering" puts it, "true alchemy's the will to make / a stilled self and a plume of smoke". Likewise, from all our cultural loam and junk, Williams has made real magic.’ —Frances Leviston
‘Williams is also an original, placing the city and landscapes of Sheffield and Derbyshire at the centre of a universe where mundane observation crosses into the visionary, generating a strange blend of dry, scabrous humour and awed love of place. The Marvellian title poem is stunning. To read Williams’s work with the best of the others here is to be convinced afresh that this is an exciting time for poetry.’ —Sean O’Brien
‘With virtuosity and brio, the poems blend the English lyric tradition with the styles of European and, in particular, German writers from Goethe to Gottfried Benn, developing a decorative yet tightly metered free verse as capable of witty evocation of complicated landscapes as of subtle, plainspoken pathos.’ —Ben Wilkinson
‘By layering cultural references and registers like sediment, a deep, imaginative landscape appears, industrial and feudal, suburban and gone to seed, where doggers and spliffs and curates and cribbage-games meet.’ —Frances Leviston
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