Image by Caroline Forbes

Hugo Williams

b. 1942


Keep it simple and make it visual seems to be the best idea. - Hugo Williams

Dinner with my Mother

Hugo Williams

When I grow up

Hugo Williams

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About Hugo Williams

Hugo Williams (b. 1942) is the son of the actor Hugh Williams and the model and actress Margaret Vyner-Williams. His glamorous yet financially precarious family life provides much of the inspiration for his poetry. Williams' first book of poems, Symptoms of Loss, appeared in 1965 and has been followed by seven further collections that have eschewed literary fashion to build a body of work acclaimed for its wry wit and meticulous control of tone. Billy's Rain, a painful, darkly funny account of a love affair, won the 2000 T. S. Eliot Prize and he was recently awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. Williams has lived in London for many years and is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement.

Williams has stayed faithful throughout his writing life to the virtue of clarity. However, whilst his poems may be plain, they are not simple. They seem to offer candour through their first person explorations of the past but the 'I' of a Williams' poem is a complex, self-reflexive presence. Not surprisingly perhaps, given his theatrical background, performance is an important element in his narrative style: mirrors, masks and make-up are recurring images. However, he avoids narcissism through the unsparing quality of the gaze he turns on himself: paradoxically the more he makes us aware of the theatricality of his writing - "God give me strength to lead a double life" ('Prayer') - the more honest he appears. Memories are a central concern, whether painful or pleasurable, or more often both, as in the gentle intimacy of 'Dinner with My Mother'. Whilst taking us into his confidence, though, the poems also insist on the personal nature of memory, how each moment carries "a hidden watermark" of significance ('Everyone Knows This') that it's not always possible to share.

The quality of the writing embodies a similar tension, employing an informal diction that creates a confiding tone, but which is the product of rigorous re-drafting. Like the casual elegance he was taught to emulate as a boy, Williams' own reading of his work is an artless art, his precise tones providing enough context to illuminate the poems but without adding to their creative autobiography.

The quality of the writing itself embodies a similar tension, employing an informal diction, but subject to rigorous re-drafting. Like the casual elegance he was taught to emulate as a boy, Williams' own reading of his work is an artless art, his precise tones providing enough context to illuminate the poems but without adding to their creative autobiography.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 28 February 2003 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by John Green.

Selected bibliography

West End Final Faber and Faber, 2009

Hugo Williams Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry...

Dear Room, Faber & Faber, 2006

Collected Poems, Faber & Faber, 2002

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Curtain Call: 101 portraits in verse (editor), Faber...

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Billy's Rain, Faber & Faber, 1999

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Penguin Modern Poets 11 (contributor with Michael...

Freelancing, Faber & Faber, 1995

Dock Leaves, London, Faber & Faber, 1994

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Prizes

1966 Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

1971 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1975 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, Some Sweet Day

Prize website

1999 T. S. Eliot Prize (winner), Billy's Rain

Prize website

A tour of the Archive with Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is a man of many talents: actor, novelist, comedian, librettist, thinker and wit. In an interview with...

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Books & cds by Hugo Williams