iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: ‘An Otley Run’ by Joe Williams

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Half Moon Books (9 Nov. 2018)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0995764293

This book is in an experimental format which works. It is not a collection of poetry: it is a verse novella. It is a story, told from more than one point of view. It has, for better or worse, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The inciting incident, I would suggest, is the premise of the book, itself. What makes this different from everyday life? The fact that people go out in togas and cowgirl costumes to drink at 14 pubs. Is that really an inciting incident? Does that represent a departure from everyday life? The reader has to decide.

I am a person who was conceived and born in Leeds, who grew up and went to school in Leeds, talking about a book by a man who is from the North East, but set in Leeds, about a cultural phenomenon in Leeds that I have heard of, but never experienced. The main reason I never experienced it is that, although I have a degree from the University of Leeds, it is a postgraduate degree. I did my undergraduate course in Liverpool, where, it should be noted, I never did the Smithdown Ten, because, in those days, I did not drink alcohol.

One of the things Joe Williams achieves is to describe an Otley Run from the point of view of a character who is not a student. The whole event may or may not have become a cliché. The way Joe Williams examines it is certainly against cliché.

All this goes to the heart of the work: Joe Williams is an outsider, observing an insider event, but with the insight of someone who is only just an outsider. Part of the point of this work is how we decide what is worth doing, which informs who we are.

The insight and clarity of the social observations is something that could never be outdone, and could only be equalled with difficulty.

If you want to know what happens, you are going to have to buy the book.

This is the kind of poetry that I argued with Kirsten Luckins about. I would describe it as “urban”. She said, “Does that mean it is rap?” I said, “No.” She said, “Give me an example of a poet who is ‘urban’ who is not a rapper.” I said, “Brian Patten.” You don’t have to come from Leeds, or have been to university in Leeds, to understand this verse novella. It isn’t fundamentally about Leeds, though Leeds certainly comes into it. It is fundamentally about our desperation to be appreciated and loved, about how we decide to spend our time, and whether what we do has any meaning or purpose.

This is, certainly for a work of this length, a very rare thing. It is narrated in recognisable voices, and written by a poet who has undoubtedly found his own voice, and hence the ways to adapt his own voice. It has a narrative arc. The social and historical facts are well observed. The underlying point to the story is built up out of minute details, not foisted on the reader.

I have never read anything like it.

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2 responses to “Review: ‘An Otley Run’ by Joe Williams

  1. David Williams (@Writerinnorth) February 13, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Excellent review that captures the perspective of the writer exceptionally well while leaving readers to explore the narrative for themselves.

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