Friday, July 27, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

The Empty House
By Max Williams

The old house felt unfriendly,
offering no apologies for the undressed rooms
and the stained wallpaper.
Or for sharing their familiarity
with others who might come anytime.
This had never been my home.
"They moved," the neighbours said, "a month ago."
And I repeated it to an overcoat
hanging behind the door.

That night I sheltered
in the empty house tucked into myself
like an abandoned dog —
not caring for the advances people made;

wrapped in an overcoat smelling of tobacco and grown ups.

This was my father's smell, blanket warm and coarse.
Next day I watched an old lady crying
and demolition workers putting back the sky.

There are too many RIPs in this column lately! It's the age I am, of course. People I have known are getting old (like me) and dying. Australian poet Max Williams, who died a week ago, was first published with three other poets in a book called Poets from Prison edited by poet Rodney Hall, who had conducted workshops in the prison they were in. They were all excellent poets. Max's work seemed to me the most beautiful, powerful and moving of all. I was not alone in that.

He came out of prison soon afterwards and never went back in. I met him in 1980 at the Adelaide Writers' Festival. A mob of us from Melbourne and Sydney were staying at Kate Llewellyn's house. Max was there with his then partner Dianne Bates, and Susan Hampton introduced us. On hearing his name, I just stared, and Susan said, 'Yes, THE Max Williams'.

Completely uncool, I blurted out, 'I love your poetry!'

My then husband, Bill Nissen and I became friends with Max and Dianne. We and our kids stayed with them a few times. They were occasions of great hospitality and great conversations. My son David (now in his forties) who was visiting me when I learned of Max's death, remembers them well, and Dianne's daughter Claire who was also a kid at the time.

He and Dianne parted; so did Bill and I. We lost touch. I remember him with great affection and respect and I'm sad to learn of his death.

Max was hard-working, a knowledgeable and interesting conversationalist, and a man of great tenderness, as well as the toughness born of a difficult early life. He was good at seeing through bullshit, and he loved the outdoors.

I'm angry that I no longer have Poets from Prison nor his autobiography, Dingo. Someone's nicked them, and they aren't readily replaceable. However we can still get his book, The Unforgiving Poem, from Abe Books, Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you're interested, there is an interview here in which he also reads from a number of his poems.

Steven Matthews, writing in The Times Literary Supplement in 2001, says of The Unforgiving Poem:
"These brief lyrics offer a distinctive and reticent metaphysics which set the work deliberately apart from that of his Australian contemporaries...These are remarkable poems which convey a lot of intractable matter with an ease and brilliance which belie their apparent modesty."

RIP Max, you were one of a kind.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. A really great share Rosemary. Love the poem you have posted of his, great talent. Thank you.

    1. Thanks. I'm glad people also like the personal details I often include in these posts.

  2. Rosemary, I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your friend.......friends from old times are golden in memory, and Max sounds, indeed, like one of a kind. It sounds like poetry had a hand in turning his life towards better days. He writes so well, and poignantly.

    1. Yes, I'm sure poetry gave him something valuable, as it does for us all, and brought him new friends and a new lifestyle.

  3. Lovely poem, thanks for this post-

  4. Short and full of things to imagine. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, I find it goes on resonating in the mind after reading. :)

  5. An impassioned, beautiful post! You bring Max close to us by unveiling your own connections with him.

  6. What an insightful view he shares. In his poems
    Thank you for illuminating his voice


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