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.

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

Poems by Hugo Williams

When I grow up - Hugo Williams
Dinner with my Mother - Hugo Williams
Hugo Williams in the Poetry Store

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Books by Hugo Williams



Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors

Prize website

Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Some Sweet Day

Prize website

T. S. Eliot Prize for Billy's Rain

Prize website

Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for Collected Poems

Prize website

T. S. Eliot Prize Shortlist for Dear Room

Prize website

Costa Book Award Shortlist for Dear Room

Prize website

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