Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

50 Words

Poetry Exercise – 50 word portraits

Lately I have the feeling that my poetry is changing. It’s going in a new direction but I am as yet unclear as to what that direction may be.
Certainly, over the last year I have paid far more attention to punctuation and line breaks, experimenting with various formats. Do I really need to use commas and full stops for instance?
I’m also finding that my poems are getting longer. They used to average (leaving aside strict forms such as sonnets and haiku) around 21 lines but lately they’ve been venturing into the 30s and occasionally beyond into scary uncharted lands.
There’s also a greater element of surrealism creeping in.
Perhaps to subconsciously subvert this trend I’m currently working – in tandem with my regular poetry – on a series of vignettes comprising of exactly fifty words each, based on customers of various coffee shops I frequent.
Here I am eschewing commas and full stops, replacing them with line and paragraph breaks. I am as yet undecided about capitalisation. I’m not even sure what I plan to do with them. It’s a work in progress.
It’s also an excellent exercise in brevity, in making every word count in order to put over a short portrait or narrative. The result is therefore sometimes a little impressionistic.
Try it out. It’s a good exercise. Use a place you visit regularly and which has a changing population, like a supermarket or a bar or a prison. Study one person for a couple of minutes; their mood, their clothing, what they are doing, looking at, reading. Write a poem of exactly fifty words for each one. See where it takes you.
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The Village, Episode 170 – Joyce #50WordStories

If Joyce had learned anything since she died, it was that people do very strange things when they are alone.
The previous tenant. a German, alternated between impersonating Cilla Black and crying copiously while staring out of the window.
Sometimes his wife visited.
She was from Liverpool. Had ginger hair.


The Village, Episode 169 – The Village Cemetery #50WordStories

Gawpers came to visit Artichoke Parry’s grave as well.
‘Cruelly underbaked, but delivered promptly to God,’ his headstone reads.
Laminated notes have been weighted down with blue quartz pebbles.
There are other, stranger offerings; jigsaw pieces, a large wooden wasp.
A woman lays a fresh bouquet, stands, then cries silently.


The Village, Episode 168 – 21 April 2015 #50WordStories

Phyllis heard it distantly.
A sound from beneath the hills, as if their very roots were wailing in grief.
Across the village, Gwilym’s head seemed to slip. He stared at the floor.
‘No,’ said the unemployed electrician, wide-eyeing his phone. ‘Prince is dead!’
An almost imperceptible keening filled the bar.


The Village, Episode 167 – Delivery for The House of Obi Wan Kenobi #50WordStories

‘Don’t speak,’ Mr Deep had warned him. ‘Just hand over the pizza and take the money.’
Now light blazed through the front door’s frosted glass.
Gavin wrestled the boxes out of the thermal bag.
A manshaped black hole stood silhouetted in the doorway.
The exchange was made.
Nothing was said.


The Village, Episode 166 – At The Elderly Crow #50WordStories

The hotel bar was busy.
Mr Guntrip was regaling Ralph with his encyclopedic knowledge of music hall sings.
Frank was discussing apocalyptic novels with the unemployed electrician.
Gwilym, as always, fixed his wooden eyes on the scene in front of him.
Jeff in turn glared at Gwilym.
Nobody noticed this.


The Village, Episode 165 – The Hall of The Gnome King #50WordStories

‘So this is an actual declaration of war?’
‘It was found in the lost property box in The Elderly Crow, O King.’
‘Does that make it more real?’
‘It makes it anonymous, O King.’
The Gnome King sighed.
‘Then we will have to consult Prince, our King Across The Water.’


The Village, Episode 164 – At The Elderly Crow #50WordStories

Abdul has been on holiday to Leicester.
‘You have a nice time?’ asked Phyllis.
‘Yes. Leicester is the nightlife centre of Europe.’
‘Is it?’
‘Indeed. I met some top architects from Dubai who had come to study nightclub construction.’
‘That’s nice.’
Phyllis, drying glasses, was miles away.
Not Leicester though.


The Village, Episode 163 – Beryl’s Boudoir #50WordStories

Beryl has discovered some dress designs created by the former owner.
It would be wrong, she reasons, to neglect them. The styles are obviously of a time past, but seem oddly timeless.
In her cellar she pulls out lengths of sheer fabrics.
Upstairs the mannikins shift imperceptibly in their window.


The Village, Episode 162 – Mr Cythraul #50WordStories

The Cythrauls’ cat had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid condition and was consequently on a special diet.
Mr Cythraul had decided to eat his pork pies in the kitchen to avoid the guilt of not giving the cat a treat.
Paradoxical behaviour for one who has slaughtered animals dispassionately.