European Journal on Life Writing

Love Plus AnarchyPicture Poems by Heathcote WilliamsClare Brant


Not all contributions to the Creative Section need be explications by their authors or makers, though the editors like to think the genre of explication is a good way to explain life writing’s creative forms in creative terms. An explication is not quite the same as an explanation: etymologically it holds a ghost of the Latin word plica, meaning a fold. So an explication may unfold creative work – and indeed fold it back up.

‘That’s just what I’m not much good at! explanations, H’. said Heathcote Williams when sent an open invitation to introduce his picture poems. The editors thought they might need an introduction, or something by way of alerting readers to provocative content. Here’s something to offend everyone – which should make us think about grounds of taking offence. In that invitation to self-reflect, these poems ask more of readers than usual: it’s part of what makes them so interesting for life writing.

A Wikipedia biography of the author is also a compelling instance of life writing tested by extraordinary gifts, riotous experiences and challenging politics; it also flirts with parody, polemic and the mischievous joy of excess. Actor, fire-eater, magician, poet, painter, playwright, sculptor, film-maker – his polymath life whirls around different arts without losing a core and recognisable identity. Maybe he makes one out of the whirling, an uncommon art. One might also describe him as endlessly inventive, a stirrer-up of the complacent, a magnificent railer against monarchy, an eloquent denouncer of imperialism, a revolutionary who challenges even the conventions of subversion and who leaves no familiarity unturned. Award-winning and acclaimed, it can be uncomfortable reading, His work is also funny, clever, trenchant, bold, uncompromising, passionate, jaw-droppingly provocative and so agile in critique it is acrobatic.

Welcome to Heathcote Williams’ picture poems…

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.