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Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet
Hugo Williams

Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet
Hugo Williams
Faber & Faber
London 1995

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‘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


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