Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Don't like his poems so much, or the bits of waffle and witter that he turns out for the TLS (though possibly - certainly - I'm inordinately jealous), but I've just been through the selection of his work in a Penguin Modern Poets that I borrowed from the British Council library for the Michael Donaghy, and I got curious enough to Google Hugo, and turned this up pronto -

Hugo Williams often spends the evening pasting memorabilia into his scrapbook. Everything goes in: newspaper clippings about him, party invitations, train tickets, photographs of Williams and his family, as well as people whose names he can't remember. Sometimes, at literary events, he just walks about snapping randomly. There are even letters in his own handwriting, which he never got round to posting. The scrapbook is running close to 60 volumes by now. The later chapters are in bright colour, but the really precious stuff is in black and white. Here is Hugo in short trousers, just after the war, with his father the actor Hugh Williams, and his mother Margaret Vyner, a model for Paris couturier Jean Patou, and later an actress herself. Here is Hugo, aged 14, on his way back to Eton after the holidays. In the colour scrapbook, he receives a major poetry prize for his latest collection, Billy's Rain; beside the photograph is a disgruntled commentary on the award by the Guardian's poetry critic. The juxtaposition amuses Williams. It simply all has to be recorded. As one of his poems has it, "The past is out of bounds. / But where else is there to go?"

I find such a predilection more than mildly interesting, and sympathise with it. It put me in mind of Julian Barnes's description of Flaubert's Bouvard et Pecuchet (although what Williams gets up to is clearly very different):

a novel about two earnest, illusion-filled clerks who try to understand the whole of human striving and the whole of human knowledge, who are defeated and then go back to being copyists - [it] is extraordinarily modern. And the second part of the book, the thought of simply giving the reader an accumulated heap of rubbish that the two heroes decide to copy down, is a phenomenally advanced idea for 1880; it is amazingly bold.

(this is from The Paris Review 157, Fall 2000)

1 comment:

jo hoopoe said...

'Scrapbooking' is enormously popular with housewives in the US, so much so that it's possible to buy books explaining to you how to go about it. Presumably they read 'buy book and glue - glue things into book' in very large letters.

As a professional geek-scientist I keep a scrapbook of my work - so far the Guardian poetry critic has not seen fit to write anything on me worth pasting in.

Pritt-stick great, Gloy rubbish.