‘I came home one night and found an Amstrad word processor sitting
on my desk. It had been delivered to my house by Charles Shaar
Murray, who was progressing to a Mackintosh for his life of John
Lee Hooker and wanted me to have first pop at the one on which
he had written his book about Jimi Hendrix, Cross Town Traffic.
He only wanted £250 for it. He said it would revolutionize
my life. He said it would play progressive guitar solos’
Freelancing is a collection of Hugo Williams’ commentaries written
for the Times Literary Supplement over the last five years.
Commentaries that have functioned, in my life at least, in much
the same way problem pages do. I always read them first, impatient
for my next fix of vicarious living à la North London poet.
Its not that Hugo’s life is really exciting, he does a bit of
teaching, a bit of reviewing, some hack writing, goes on British
Council freebies, quite a lot of posh parties and hangs out with
friends with proper jobs who can afford to pay for dinner – but
he writes quite brilliantly abut it. His life is presented to
us with a cool, strangely detached intimacy that is the hallmark
of his poetry, and it is precisely this detached, almost passive
approach to life that gives his accounts a quality that is hard
to identify. Disingenuous is too pejorative – there is a lack
of connectedness that allows us to experience his narrative as
profoundly egoless, just sort of there. This apparent lack of
analysis, the feeling that he is really not too sure what to make
of any of it, but you can have a go if you want, is deceptive.
No one writes prose this good without working at it.
Reading Hugo Williams’ writing is all about admitting to knowing about
the tiny, unmentionable things that happen to all of us, but that
rarely get used in poetry or prose unless its elevated to `dirty
realism’ symbolic of some much greater malaise. His great gift
is to refuse to imbue his experiences with a grand meaning, allowing
us all to get in on the act of thinking our quotidian moments
of being were actually just as interesting as we thought they
were, and everyone else would think so too if we could write as
well as Hugo Williams’.
Reviewed by Sara Rance