In The Model Shop, F.J. Williams entices us in with his miscellanea of poetic curios, flat-packed dialectics of commercial culture that spring from the page like polemical pop-ups. Never knowingly under-told, Williams’ satirical curatorship of materialist society and its manufactured distractions captures startlingly the mal de moderne of perpetual department stores. These consumer encomiums prod at our glazed eyes with magical re-brandings — for Williams is a conjurer, plucking poetry from the paper hat of capitalism. Had David Nobbs’ neurasthenic Reginald Perrin turned to poetry to alleviate his pin-striped crisis, he might have penned such shop-floor epiphanies as these; imaginative responses to distinctly unimaginative capitalist apparatus.
In this hinterland of besieged creativity and incisive wit, Williams cultivates a salvation cult of retail-nostalgia, evangelising the relics of Woolworths: ‘...we’ve followed the wrong god out of church// The music of doo-wop coaxing time back/ ...the smell of peppermint ...// Happy to stand in the striplights and be counted’; or travelling back to a ricketier past before the oligarchy of cars: ‘the bones of laughter among the broken engines/ and dead headlamps of the two-bob tram’. Brand names germinate like memes; magazine racks glare transcendently: ‘We come to Parker’s Guide to Cars// Balancing sportscars on our fingertips/ We touch the two forevers...’ Mortality’s sting has softened here; it massages the nerves with the respite of a lit cigarette in a sea of waving lighters; everything must go, even us, with or without smoke, and perversely one never feels more alive than when singeing one’s chances of longevity: ‘...here you stand with
crinkly ash trays,// your brain map all aglow/ to find among the smoking room body, mind and soul’.
Williams’ poems illuminate the porous shadows of the supermarket shelves, revealing a captivating range of unadvertised narratives.