Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Cocoa Beach – Nov 2007

Today I took a walk up to the beach
all by myself, to face the Atlantic,
not like the surfers do, all challenging
in-your-wave-face canuteys

but like a supplicant, with reverence.
This if anything is our creator
breaking like a wet heart upon the sand
oblivious to its driftwood offspring.

The exciting thing is knowing all this,
not bothering to share it with the world.
Let them keep their dry bibles and baked words.
I will hold this secret for their children

and the vision of their joyful fathers
skimmed like flat stones over the thoughts of God.


Pocket Horizon – Kelley Swain (Ed) (2013)


This is a beautiful little book which I bought as my introduction to Valley Press books, (along with VP50, which is a collection of fifty poems from their first 50 publications.)
The Pocket Horizon is an antique device, a black polished disc which somehow, via its reflection of the sky, helped ship’s navigators determine a horizon line.
The poets in this book have taken two objects/exhibits each, one from the Whipple Museum, Cambridge and one from the Wellcome Collection, London, (institutions which could be described as museums of curiosities). The poets constructed works based on these objects while the illustrator Cassie Herschel-Shorland has provided drawings of the chosen subjects. One of the subjects of course is The Pocket Horizon from which this collection takes its name.
Kelley Swain has also contributed and edited this volume which has an introduction by Don Paterson who also, it seems, worked with the poets to refine their work.
It’s a bit of an experiment, adding to the scientific theme, which succeeds in becoming a beautiful little curiosity in itself.
My favourite piece is ‘The Great Orrery’ by Lorraine Mariner. which paints a subtle portrait of the boundaries between classes. and I also commend ‘Collection of 29 Horses Teeth’ and ‘Scold’s Bridle’ by Marlene Engelund.



I realise I have got into a regular writing routine which is proving productive. It’s evolved to be mostly in coffee shops and is a mixture of intense revision and writing new stuff. I’m surrounded usually by people with a spectrum of technological devices by which, like me, they are beguiled. Thankfully, now and then, some of them actually have a proper conversation with words out loud and everything. I’m grateful for this as quite often I tend to eavesdrop and steal various bits of conversation for use in my work.
On the whole I concentrate on poetry but after many years I have returned to short stories and work on them inbetween the poetry revision. Back in the day I wrote Science Fiction and had about half a dozen short stories published here and there.
These days it’s become somewhat surreal and the stories are based on a project I published in this blog some time ago whereby I wrote a series of fifty word stories based in a strange village somewhere near the Welsh border on the English side. Clicking the ‘Village’ category on the right should bring them all up, but you will have to go back to number one to read them in internal chronological order.
I’m just letting it do what it wants at the moment. I have completed three short stories set in the same village supplementing the fifty word stories and am working on the fourth. For me, it’s like doodling. If you don’t worry too much about what you are doing and let your subconscious take over sometimes marvellous things come out of it.

i fell in love with a newsagent (2008)

quite by chance
in the act of purchasing a snickers
in the pivotal seconds between lifting it
from the wire rack
and handing over sixty-five pence.

this is what smitten is. i was smitted
in the blinking of a darklashed eye
as i held the bar like a cheap torch.
the world slowed for me to live the seconds;
cars slid headlong down the streets.
a cyclist was catapulted into the grounds
of the baptist church.
the building shook and half the remaining
snickers shuddered to the floor.
‘sixty-five pence please… thank you.’
there was no way to say… anything,
not in the midst of such desolation.

and i left
to face the accusing car-alarms
the rubble, the angry cyclist
the chaos
the distant mocking sirens whooping
‘unrequited! unrequited! unrequited!’


I wrote this quite recently as a draft of a blog post, an update of something I had posted earlier.

‘Very soon I will make my debut as a performing poet Obviously I’m very flattered to have been asked but I am, quite frankly, terrified.
I have a ten minute spot during which I need to delight and enrapture a captive audience.
I fear I will be mocked, which is unlikely but nevertheless broods as an irrational taunt.
It’s not as if I have never performed things on stage before, but they were always me inhabiting another character. Once on stage I felt no fear. This was not me. It was a puppet I was controlling. I’m ok when I’m someone else.
Being me is very difficult.’

However, I managed it. On 6 September I made my debut as a performing poet. It was a huge thing for me as I have in the past had problems of self confidence, and still suffer from shyness and awkwardness in social situations.
I invited only two people I knew. That was a damage limitation exercise on my part as I felt that if I was a complete disaster then these were two people who would not judge me. In hindsight I don’t think any of my friends would judge me in that sense. I would in any case beat them to it and judge myself.
Anyhoo, I spent a week or more putting together some material and rehearsed it alone.
I was a little shakey when it came to actually getting up in front of the mic but then it was fine. I sailed through it, got some laughs and applause as well as some very positive feedback from guests and other performers afterward. I want to do it again now.
I find the last sentence of the draft quite profound.
Being me is very difficult, but it’s possible, and sometimes it’s just wonderful.

When your best work isn’t…


A friend recently said to me, about my recent book (£8 + £1.50 p&p from Oversteps Books. Ideal Christmas present for single, pissed-off, middle-aged women!), “I really enjoyed it. But why did you put all the best poems at the back?” This stumped me, as I didn’t think I had. In fact, I had deliberately put what I thought were my best poems at the front.

Another thing that happens to me quite a lot (and I don’t think I’m alone in this – it’s a bit of a poetry cliche) is that I send off a submission to a journal, include three or four pieces I am really, really proud of, that I slaved over and crafted, that I privately think might go down in history as groundbreaking classics and be included on ‘A’ level syllabuses in fifty years’ time, and then I stick in one bit of…

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viral transmission (2008)

reality shows
are just another disease
spread wordborne at work
through phones and water coolers.
i’m susceptible.

i’ve caught catchphrases
through the briefest exposure
to a transmission.
it’s a meme form of herpes,
always there, lurking.

‘i ‘ate you, butler!’
i whisper at the tv.
the phrase is dragged out
of dormancy at peak time.
i’m feeling dumbed down.

if i were stupid
i would not know all those things
and would be immune
to the shame of it. i’d just
be a carrier.

The Last Two Nine Five (2006)

As I begin this
the last Two Nine Five slips by like an opportunity,
marking its passing with a diesel sigh.
My guilty windows shudder a reply,
a morse goodbye which the bus ferries
off as an extra passenger
all the way to the terminus.

I recall my last trip to the stop
before the river, clutching clanking beers.
Your windows on the left like mine
their triffid-rattled welcomes to a strange wind,
the motor rolling away like the end
of a seventies single
into the general hiss of the world.

If you ever read this
the engine’s farewell may not ring a bell.
A thousand journeys have rattled your windows
with cargoes of stories since then.
I am melted into the white noise
of the end of the cassette tape
that braked the wheels to a stop.

susceptible (2013)

I get really fuzzy ITV and a bit of BBC1.
one in each eye
usually independently
but sometimes both at once.

I’m susceptible the doctors say
following intensive probes and
initial disbelief.
I’m receptive
to broadcast modern culture.

If it gets serious, they say,
I could start getting channel 5.
That’s the worst case scenario.


Christmas is coming, very very very fastly.
But panic not, readers! There’s still time to order that extra-special gift for a loved one, and what says ‘I love you more than kittens at xmas’ better than a book packed with poems about nuns. Buy one now.