Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

Exercises in Poetry and Memory

Much of my poetry is – as I have discovered – a means to understanding my past, which is sometimes a place of paradox and puzzles. I have, I have to admit, long term memory problems. I think it’s all there but it seems to emerge at random times. I used to think that there was so much stuff in my head that it was overwriting the old stuff, like computer files, but came to realise that someone else would no doubt have pointed this out before and advocated that people stop reading to save their headspace.
As partly a remedy to this and partly a way of finding things in my childhood to write about I started keeping an Evernote record of things I recalled, adding them when I recalled them or else one a day by consciously recalling things that were accessible.
This has had a good result in that I am recalling other things as a result of recalling the things on the list, and having them written down helps to reinforce the connections to these memories, or so I believe. It’s early days but there’s interesting things turning up.
The other day for instance I remembered – for no reason that I could fathom – one summer’s day in the mid Nineteen Sixties. My brother had made me a dalek outfit from a cardboard box with big circles painted on the side to represent the dalek half-spheres. There were two holes in the front from which protruded a plunger and a brass toasting fork. My head was covered with an old bucket into which a Ned Kelly eye panel had been cut. Above that a spoon had been fixed into the bucket to represent the eye module. I was, it has to be said, a bit of a special needs dalek, but my imagination more than made up for the suit’s limitations. I spent at least an hour blasting our rhubarb patch with the ray from my toasting fork before stumbling my way up the steps to the road.
An old man sporting a flat cap and a raincoat that had seen better days was waiting at the nearby bus stop. I attempted a dalek-like glide over the pavement toward him.
‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ I chanted, waving my toasting fork menacingly in his direction.
‘Bugger Off!’ he shouted, with a surprisingly loud and fearsome voice for a pensioner, and raised his walking stick. I wavered. My toasting fork adroop, I turned and stumbled back, thinking that I’d better stick with the rhubarb.
Never threaten a Welsh pensioner. They will return after decades to wave sticks in your head.

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