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Remembering Noel Williams

Sheffield’s creative and academic community has been paying tribute to poet Noel Williams, who died suddenly in August.

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Noel, whose work was featured in Now Then, was well-known and well-loved, with many friends made through his wide-ranging interests and studies - from war games, contemporary art, folklore, to computer technology.

Although his academic accomplishments were great – a first class degree from Cambridge, a PhD, Professor of Communication at Sheffield Hallam University – Noel was modest, ‘sensitive’ and approachable, encouraging many upcoming poets and writers.

Noel was born in Sheffield. He grew up in Crookes but his family left the city when he was nine. A love of William Blake brought him back to study a PhD in folklore, incorporating the visionary poet, at the now closed Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, at the University of Sheffield. He remained in the city with his wife, Carrol, raising a family, and his deeply-held interest in folklore stayed with him.

His love of Sheffield was featured in an exhibition Skylines at Bank Street Arts, which involved a series of poems and photographs arranged against the timeline of his life in the city.

Art was often at the forefront of his creative writing. In 2009, he was awarded a residency at Bank Street Arts to develop a poem sequence on the theme ‘Women and Warfare.’ This was realised as an exhibition, ‘Exploding Poetry’.

Noel also ran many local poetry workshops, mainly for community groups and schools, usually working with local community arts organisation Art in the Park.

He was until his death, associate editor of the poetry magazine Orbis and co-editor, with his friend Rosemary Badcoe, of the online magazine Antiphon.

The magazine was designed to publish some of the best poetry being written in the UK but soon became a lot more popular and received submissions from across the world. It ran from 2011-2019 and included sound files of poets reading their work.

Rosemary says, “As well as great poetry, we'd publish reviews of new poetry books. Noel was particularly good at editing and mentoring poets.”

The two of them met while studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Rosemary adds, “I remember he gave a particularly harsh critique of a draft of a children's book I was trying to write. But actually he was always very generous with his thoughts and his time.”

The three of us edited Millstone Grit, an anthology of poetry from alumni of the Sheffield Hallam MA in Writing.

Noel’s first collection, Out of Breath, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2014, with a pamphlet, Point Me at the Stars, from Indigo Dreams in 2017.

In a tribute in Orbis, David Harmer writes, “He was a dear friend, a very funny companion, a thoroughly decent man and an extremely fine poet.”

The last word goes to Noel, who leaves a huge hole in Sheffield’s creative scene and accomplishments too numerous to mention.

He wrote love poems (about Carrol) all his life, and when asked by poet Roy Marshall about influences on his poetry, he replied, “I’m predominantly a romantic, and most readily identify with Keats and Wordsworth…”

You can read Noel’s blog here and a live event to celebrate Noel and his work is currently being planned.

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