The ninth satire is a remarkable volume of writing.
It includes poetry, short fiction and biography, and blurs the lines between those different forms of communicating to leave the reader with a sense of knowing deeply many people, many voices.
It is worth buying for one central, and striking, piece, ‘Flowers for the Dead’. The poem outlines Williams’ chief concern:
Ask me why I write so many poems about the dead
And I tell you it is because there are so many of them.
Williams’ poetry is strong and clear, and his writing about AIDS, in particular, cracks open the rhetoric of ritual and exposes the living and dying of reality.
When it is your turn to write about the dead do not write
About flowers, or afternoons in the sun, or cycles, or God.
Tell it as it was. Get out your hammer and drive the nail in.
The collection is not entirely concerned with AIDS, but this central theme is present in all the best and sharpest pieces, just as it is central to so many of our lives these days. Williams includes in his volume journal extracts, such as ‘First and Last Words’, written by friends who were in the process of illness and dying, and who wanted their voices to be heard, and their lives to be remembered. It matters little whether this is fiction or autobiography, real or imagined, as the experience is genuinely, unsentimentally, and coherently conveyed.
The ninth satire is not an easy read. It is emotionally difficult, despite its humour, and attempts to make a place for the different forms of grief and anger in our lives, and a context for the realities of gay and lesbian lives in the 90s.
When someone has died, do not take flowers with you.
Make poems in the teeth of your grinding jaw and bursting head.
The dead don’t need flowers or poems about flowers.
The dead leave pain behind them so we know we are still alive.