Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


The Drowning Man (2008)

You remind me of that bible story about the drowning man
who expects God to save him.
He dies and asks why God didn’t save him
and God says ‘I sent you a motor boat and
a helicopter.’

You’re quite right
There were no helicopters in the bible…
Or motor boats.

It must have been made up later,
after helicopters were invented,
but that’s not the point.
The man did not see that God was
trying to save him.

Well, yes, the man was dead
when he found that out.

I don’t know how we know
what God said, but that’s not the point.

It’s a story.

I don’t see what’s funny about that!
You should be drowning, not laughing.


Wing (2010)

An angelwing was sprayed on to the blue;
a contrail streamered by a raking wind.
Some may, no doubt, see signs of the divine
in these flatulent remains, the sky’s dregs.

And yet, there’s something great there all the same.
I wondered as I watched if only I
had witnessed this. No one looks up these days
not unless a voice calls from above.

There was no voice, by the way, just in case
you think I’m heading in that direction,
just this great wing with its wind carved feathers
arcing to the left of the setting sun.
It was random, senseless, magnificent.
Then it was gone; didn’t leave a message.

monday (2006)

is the struggle to awaken

and appreciate

the metaphor of watching

that poor beetle in the bathtub.

i shoved the tissue under him and

took him to the window.

he thinks i’m god. i’ve taken him

from purgatory to


he’ll tell the other beetles

of my godcup lake of godcoffee

my godly smoke, my godly frown,

my godly morning news

and my noisy godly craps.


i try to climb the god enamel.

god keeps turning on the taps.

the emissary (2013)

god brought us together
so i can explain slowly
that he doesn’t exist

it’s a paradox i know
but the truest things are opposites
they’re strange attractors

believers and the godless
yearn to warp the needles
of the others’ knitting

my money’s on me
to be making the jumper
with the strongest wool

Give us a Sign (2009)

Still no sign of God.
I’ve called and left messages
and had no reply.

I even prayed for
a valid e-mail address
that I could write to.

He should move with the times
in a mysterious way
but mostly forward,

set up call centres,
Mumbai and New Delhi.
We could ring and

complain to ofGod
if we can’t get a response.
Then they can fine him.

Angels (2012)

There are no angels here
that will own up, come clean
and show their wings.

I’d thought them in hiding;
a kind of godless protection programme.
New names, a house. Jobs.

Maybe they have forgotten
who they are
and how to fly,

have grounded themselves
in houses drenched
with christmas lights

or else keep racing pigeons
lovingly housed in kits
on precarious ledges.

They will have blistered feet
no belly buttons
facial hair or nipples

I’ve tried to seek them out.
I’ve searched and searched.
But nothing… Nothing.

tom waits is missing (2011)

I was discussing Tom Waits earlier, having today listened to his ‘Real Gone’ album, an amazing bit of American Gothic Blues. I was thinking while listening to it that if David Lynch is stuck for someone to provide additional music for his new ‘Twin Peaks’ series (yes, it is coming back apparently) then Tom would be ideal. Indeed, Tom himself would make an ideal resident for this most surreal of American small towns.
Many years ago, I was having another discussion about music in general and was asked if I had any Tom Waits albums.
‘Yes,’ I replied, quite confidently. ‘I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a CD with a black and yellow cover.’
Later, the thought of the CD returned to me. After a fruitless search through the shelves, and through my memories to try and recall what tracks might have been on it, I came to the conclusion that I had never had the CD in the first place. Why I imagined I had was a bit of a mystery, but the mind is an odd thing and we can convince ourselves of all sorts of nonsense, particularly in regard to the past.
I started writing a poem about this incident which went through an amazing process of rewrites and revisions over a ridiculous number of years (during which I acquired a ridiculous number of Tom Waits albums and became a committed fan).
Serendipitously, the poem ended up as an extended metaphor for something else completely. It was published by London Grip in 2011.

tom waits is missing

we can’t recite our canon of cds
unless we have just three
or too much time on our hands.

but we know them when we see them
like the faces of celebrity saints
from the hello bible.

i believed
that tom waits was present,
safe as gospel
between the book of verve
and the books of whitesnake
but he’s not.

the title hovers at the edge of recall
like a maddening psalm. it tests my faith.
i pray for tracks
into empty silence, void.

then i reach that point of
shuddering revelation

the liberating moment when
i’m suddenly aware
of the loss of
something that was never there.

My latest publication

The online magazine Antiphon is featuring sonnets in its next issue (due out in September) and has accepted one of my bits of autobiographical whinging… which is nice.

Sonnets are very addictive. I’ve been writing at least one a month for years, usually named after the month, as there’s often references to the weather although the actual subject might be something quite different.
The good thing about this practice is that it assembles itself into a diary of mood and opinion.

Here’s one that was published a few years ago, in Anon 6

April 2007

We usually have that Easter business
bouncing around the calendar each year,
like they have to make sure it doesn’t clash
with the X-Factor or a football match.

‘What are you doing for Easter?’ they say
once it’s crept up unannounced from behind;
clamped you to its cross of bleak tradition,
now that it’s too late to book a coma.

‘Not much,’ you say, and smile that weary smile
of suffering, the one that Jesus did
with idiots who thought it was the tricks
that made the difference. ‘I’m just staying home.’

Best take to your bed. Rise on the third day.
No witnesses. That just causes trouble.

Why I Am An Atheist

The question should really be ‘Why Are People Religious?’ since my point of view is that atheism should logically be the default position for all intelligent organisms and I see no point in defending it further than that. However it behooves me to explain myself since my tagline clearly defines me as someone who feels strongly about this issue and I think it important that anyone of a religious persuasion reading this should understand the rationale.
I grew up with parents of different religious persuasions. My mother was Church of England, for me one of the more sensible of the Christian denominations since they tend to keep their habits restricted to Sundays and religious holidays, without letting God interfere with the reality of everyday life.
My father came from an Evangelical family. His grandparents, who brought him up, ran the local mission and were devout to the extent that they would cook all Sunday’s food on Saturday in attempt to avoid falling foul of God’s law on working on the Sabbath.
I attended Church until I was about ten, but had already come to the conclusion that God, along with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy was just another comfortable fantasy. It did puzzle me why my parents had not yet worked it out. As we were not the sort of family who ever discussed matters of a personal nature I never raised this matter with them.
I was somewhat surprised at the age of fourteen when my Mother, while washing the pots, said to me, ‘You don’t believe in God, do you?’.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Mmmm,’ she said, ‘It’s a bit of a silly idea when you think about it.’
I did not know how to answer that so I backed out of the kitchen and went off to listen to Tangerine Dream.
My father continued in his Creationist views. We had occasional debates which tended to reduce themselves to the absurd. I had long ago abandoned any idea of the story of Adam and Eve being factual history. My father’s explanation for the genetic diversity of the multi-toned human race was that God put an Adam and Eve in every country.
Nothing since has given me any cause to change my views and until recently I remained content that others were free to live within whatever comfortable fantasy they chose as long as it didn’t harm anyone else. I think that was my comfortable fantasy since the harm that organised religion causes seems to far outweigh the good.
This is abundantly clear of late, particularly in America which is running perilously close to becoming a Theocracy.
Issues of abortion and gay marriage have made evident that, at base, religions are political institutions, far removed from their aims when they were just minor cults – as they all were. Let us not forget this fact. The Westboro Baptist Church (Google them. Their idea of Christianity is as twisted as their congregation) is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how irrational and dangerous religious groups can be.
Additionally, it is very difficult to defend the fact that children around the world are being taught – essentially – lies. A frightening proportion of Americans, for instance, do not accept the theory of Evolution and believe that the world was created 6000 years ago.
Even a modicum of common sense, some logic and a little bit of serious thinking would expose these suggestions as nonsense, but sadly, those most in need of common sense seem all too reluctant to employ it.
So, no, there is no God, and absolutely no shred of evidence to support any claim to the contrary. If you are in possession of any such evidence please let me know. I’ll be happy to publicise it.