Poetry review: 30/9/21

THE TAKING PART  
by Joe Williams

Cover of The Taking Part

... individual poems stand out as brilliant… 

In The Taking Part, Joe Williams collects together a mixed bag of poems about sport, games and puzzles ranging from wordsearches to cricket. It’s a slim volume with a great cover taken from the painting ‘Back Street’ by Walker Scott. Scott’s paintings have an LS Lowry look to them, though I like them better – especially the brilliantly askew ‘The Alley.’

 

The cover, showing hunched-shouldered fellas sloping past red brick terraces, suggests this is a book of poems from northern towns. Having read The Otley Run, I was expecting The Taking Part to be full of darkish humour and an eye for the details of modern life set against a fading industrial backdrop. What Williams gives us is a strange tonal mix – a collection that feels a bit forced, though individual poems stand out as brilliant.

 

To be fair to the poet, I first read the book on a seven-hour bus journey from Belgrade to Pristina, greatly in need of break from the transcript of a war crimes tribunal I was reading. It had also been four hours and three cans of beer since the last toilet stop so I was feeling emotional, drained and desperate. In this state, another poem with a line too long to fit in with the rhythm felt irritating rather than funny,

 

Muhammed Ali

Could sting like a bee.

He is the same

bloke I was talking about before, after changing his name.

 

It probably works better when delivered by the poet in a pub, with a pint of beer, rather than on a bus with my legs crossed. Despite this, and despite some poems not grabbing me, I found there was a lot to like.

 

The low-key memories and repeating patterns in ‘Nana’s House’ give us a taste of childhood through everything he’s forgotten until, in a satisfying conclusion, he remembers Thorburn scoring a maximum and ends with a throwback to stanza one – as short and flat as a northern vowel sound,

 

I’ll take my sister’s word

about the biscuits.

 

The book is scattered with tiny untitled rhyming poems – some of which made me smile.

 

Virginia Wade

got paid

less than the men

again.

 

I like the fun of the plaintive love poem ‘Third Slip’ presented as an extended cricket metaphor. I am also a fan of how Williams illuminates worlds in small details, much more successfully than others do in grand, sweeping philosophies.

 

Did you get your dinner at

the chippy by the bridge, and

your programme from the double denim guy?

 

The final poem ‘The Worst Match I Ever Saw’ is glorious – understated, beautiful – two short stanzas singing out to every sports fan who has ever endured seasons of fog and failure and every human heart who senses the best is no longer yet to come.

 

Behind our goal with pie and peas

we watch the action fade away,

hoofed into the unknown,

dribbled into the mist.

Review: Sarah Hehir

Get it:
THE TAKING PART by Joe Williams

ISBN: 9781913508166

Maytree Press, 2021
Get it

£7