Prize-winning Philip Williams and the Poems and Pints poetry club in Alsager

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 February 2014

Poet, Phil Williams

Poet, Phil Williams

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Philip Williams runs the Poems and Pints poetry club in Alsager. Now his craft has taken an award-winning turn

Poet, Phil WilliamsPoet, Phil Williams

To go, or not to go - that was the question Philip Williams asked himself in pondering whether to attend the annual Cheshire Prize for Literature Awards last November.

Having entered one of his poems for consideration, when the night eventually came around, it was dark, raining and the traffic was foreseeably troublesome. A drive to Chester, where the awards are hosted by the city’s university, did not appeal.

‘Eventually I decided I would go as I was excited to see who had won,’ recalls Philip, who, originally from South Wales, has lived in Alsager for eight years. Award-winning poet and playwright Roger McGough CBE, who also presents BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please programme, was the special guest at the event, which is open to anyone living in, or with a connection to, Cheshire.

‘I was also looking forward to seeing Roger present the prize,’ says Philip. ‘I attend a number of poetry groups around Cheshire, so I was fairly sure I’d know - or know of - the winner.’ As it turned out, Philip did indeed know the winner. In fact, he knew the winner very well.

Poet, Phil WilliamsPoet, Phil Williams

‘It was only when Roger began to read out that winning poem that I suddenly thought, that’s my poem!’ laughs Philip. ‘I was completely shocked - I had no idea I’d won at all. They kept it as a complete surprise!’

After a few half-hearted attempts to write poetry while studying English and university, Philip’s passion for verse emerged ten years ago after trying his luck at a poetry workshop at an annual arts festival held in Leeds. ‘The lady running the workshop simply told us to write a poem there and then, on the spot. I thought to myself, “I can’t just write one!”, but eventually I did, and in the weeks after that, I wrote lots more,’ says Philip, who works as a freelance marketer for colleges and universities.

‘I then moved to Alsager in 2006. I joined a few different poetry groups in the area, and I quickly learned that there is a definite poetry ‘scene’ in and around Cheshire. Then, about four years ago, I had my first ever published poem in a magazine called Agenda. Since then, I’ve had about sixteen published poems in periodicals and magazines.’

The poem for which he won the Cheshire Prize, entitled ‘The Elvis Shed’, was based on a fancy dress night held at a South Wales ice cream depot. So, given this, where is it that he finds the inspiration to write?

‘Ideas can come from anything and everything: people, places, objects. The other poem I won an award for recently at the Nantwich Words and Music Festival, judged by Simon Armitage, was for a poem I wrote based on my granddad’s large family who grew up in a two-up, two-down in working-class Birmingham.

‘I’ve also been commissioned to write poems to accompany a sculpture exhibition due to be held before Easter at the United Reform Church in Alsager, where all tickets sold will go to charity. The sculptures are made by a lady who recently went through breast cancer, and the poems will act as a response to the visual art. With that, it is the art which acts as the inspiration.’

Then, in true literary metaphoric style, Philip, who counts Heaney, Yeats and Elliott among his favourite poets, likens the process of writing his poetry to that of baking bread. ‘I normally sketch out my ideas pretty quickly. Then, after I’ve written a poem, I let it sit for a few days and then go back to it. If it’s risen I’ll work with it and knead it, but if it’s flat I’ll just discard it.’

Philip runs Poems and Pints poetry club in Alsager. The club is open anyone who is interested in poetry. It’s free to attend and is held upstairs at the Lodge Pub in Alsager, on a Thursday evening every other month. For details contact Phil on 01270 882060 or email p.williams@waitrose.com

Here is Philip’s poem, The Awning. He explains: ‘Our local deli struggled to get its striped awning to work at first, but I was struck by their persistance and the difference it made.’

The Awning

His wife and daughter arrive too late

for the lunchtime rush. Traffic held them up.

They set-to with knives and aprons

as he juggles Cheshire brie in ciabatta,

the coffee, the cash, the change.

The man in the suit with the Chinese partner

pays for their cappuccinos and commends

them. A gaggle of older women wait

as another examines the crafts, mugs, cards.

Outside, couples sit and sip their drinks,

as the awning, striped and bright, sifts

the sunlight, stirs in the breeze.

At day’s end it will refuse to retract

into its case and he’ll refuse to pay

the fitters their final instalment.

But now, striped, bright and filtering

sunshine, it flaps, buckles and stirs,

casts colours onto faces in the shade.

By Philip Williams

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