Noel Williams has published poems widely in the UK, in many magazines (such as The Rialto, The North, Wasafari, Interpreter’s House, Envoi and many others) and a dozen anthologies, as well as in poetry journals in the USA, India and Mexico. With more than sixty prizes, commendations and shortlistings in poetry competitions, he’s also been nominated for the Forward Prize four times, and for the US Pushcart Prize. He’s also published a few short stories and is currently working on a book for developing poets.
He edits the online magazine Antiphon, is Associate Editor of Orbis, and reviews for The North, Envoi and other magazines. His collection Out of Breath was published in 2014.
Noel has collaborated in several exhibitions, linking poetry to art or to music (or both), and has twice held poetry exhibitions of his own work, the most notable of which was “Exploding Poetry” in 2010. He’s run many workshops and poetry events for community groups and schools, and mentored several other writers to help them publish.
He’s lived in Sheffield most of his life. His mother made steel cans for Batchelors Peas. His father serviced printing machines for the Sheffield Star. As a scholarship boy at Magdalen College School in Oxford, he published his first poems, then took a 1st in English at King’s College, Cambridge, twice winning the James Prize. His PhD at Sheffield University examined the work of William Blake, and supernatural names in literature and oral culture.
Over an academic career of 38 years, he’s published in many fields, including fairy tales, artificial intelligence, computer games and human communication, with national recognition from the ISTC. He’s now Emeritus Professor of Communication at Sheffield Hallam University.
138 x 216mm
£6.00 + P&P UK
PUB: 11th December 2017
‘Point me at the stars’ is a narrative sequence of twenty eight lyric poems telling a story of loneliness, ambition, love and loss. A lonely child grows up with promises of glory, and craving love. But he equates love with his idealistic, perhaps selfish, ambitions. In aspiring for the stars, is love inevitably lost?
“Noel Williams’ collection harnesses the mysteries of space with an admirable lightness of touch. Poised between stars and flowers, the poems tease out the lonely hesitancies of childhood, memory and love with precision and a heartfelt lyric intensity.”
The Floating Man and The Remedies, shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize
“As someone whose first collection was a sequence of nocturnes, I warm instantly to the title of this one and the honesty of the poems within, which surprise and delight with their range of images that convey the scale and mystery of that dark world beyond our own, distant but close at the same time.”
The Painters Who Studied Clouds, Lowland, and Nocturnes, winner of the Keats-Shelley prize
“Laced through with questions around loneliness and the darkness that can exist in families, these are searching and restless poems, constantly looking upward to the night sky for answers about the self, what it means to love and how to make sense of the world.”
The Art of Falling and If We Could Speak Like Wolves
Point me at the stars
A sedge of herons
I walk the hill. Barracking clouds
toss and snatch at Rigel.
I’m roofless as the dark.
Nudges of streetlight shuffle me along.
I’m in no hurry. It could be any night.
Following the shadowed flit of a bird
under a dogtooth holly,
I’m steered back to a blood-black lake.
I’m tempted to jump. To startle that lacquer
with stupidity. But I’m in mind of two herons
book-ended at each tip of the lake,
silver as memory on the shadowed water.
Not ghosts, each stands a caryatid
deep in unseen mud,
certain that fish will come.
I kneel at the reeds, reach to ripples almost seen.
They roll from my touch, cold
in long curving slides, shivers of water.
Birds sleek, severe.
A grey voice, tight-collared tells us again
how for a micro-second everything
that would become the universe inflated
faster than light.
I don’t see it.
Across the benches there’s the murmur
of hangovers and exam nerves.
Quick as a predator her thin arm rises,
nails glinting the zodiac, as she asks:
So all laws came from nothing?
Through a mystery outside understanding,
creation created itself,
immutable in white and black?
Something like that. In an interval
smaller than can be counted
absence of faith expands to starlight
every galaxy unfolds around her.
I see it.
The river slopes so one stroke
deep in Grantchester poles us
all the way to Newton’s perplexed bridge,
past meadow floods of cabbage whites,
past the millpond where we skated without skates.
Time moves more slowly than the land
stretching sunset to a week.
This dilated summer
elides us bridge by bridge, swan
by swan, slow willow by willow.
I steal dark chocolate, Caerphilly, tangerines.
Act out Othello. A splinter pricks your wrist.
You watch the welling blood
slide to your elbow, a prescient lake.
On Gogmagog we lie
to plot the sky’s lines. We’re each
the other’s eiderdown and pillow.
When the Perseids descend
you draw their starfall on my hand.
Like a carrier bag caught in a tree
all the words fall out
so its shapes are made of wind,
breathed by passers-by, greyed
by frost and the depredation of crows
until shreds of polyethylene
tickertape the path with plastic autumn
where it’s scuffed underfoot by children with sticks
shouting their borrowed language.
Do not point me at the stars.
What’s there to hear?
Their music groans with every spark
a tinkling of the spheres,
tarantellas for the mad.
Do not point me at the stars.
What’s there to say? She is drowned
by the lake that drinks all words.
The sky is empty. Stars are not tears,
not stories. We’ve been had.
Where she walks
roses turn towards her.
If she smiles,
When she bows or bends
to tap the soil around tinder,
flame fingers its way from the earth.
She buries cinders for seeds,
harvests an orange too gold to peel,
bites a peach of ginger snow,
spits stones of fire melting.
The breeze from the west lifts sparks from the thorn
scattering on the neighbours’ sky.
As she waits for her man of rime,
at her feet a tortoiseshell flares.
Mothballing the observatory
Confronting the attic
where only scraps of light remain
among the carrier bags and fairground toys,
I imagine planetoids of circling dust
massed at the pull and push of her heat
spun to her rays that burned through rock.
We’d taken slates, slashed the roof,
half-built a cantilevered frame. Sunlight’s
now irony, recolouring snapshots,
the astrolabe, backgammon pieces
stained with nail-varnish, unread Spenser,
Tarot cards, a dress faded as a burnt moth.
This press of objects and heavy time
that stoked desire, maps emptiness.
Our prismed vision bent all light.
Now memory’s fantastic as her heron ghost,
a tawdry gaze dazzled by fireworks,
startling and sparking and here and gone
whilst nothing happens on the ground.
The secrets I searched for lie here
in plain view. The sky’s not blue.
There is no sky. The stars long ran
from where we put them.
The fires of Venus, ice of Mars, steel clouds of Jupiter
and Saturn’s ring of knives are tricks I’ve played
to hide my accidental birth.
My mother left me staring at the sun.
My father stuffed night in his pillow.
And when a silver bird stooped to me from her sky
that was no syzygy but a casual touch
swapping moments of loneliness,
children’s marbles spinning in a hole.