Sunday 22 November 2009

The Williams Short Method

As part of my work as a poet I've conducted workshops in Leicestershire as part of a series of events called 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum'. This has taken me to places like the Public Records Office in Wigston where we've used newspapers, photographs and other artefacts and the Museum Stores at Barrow-on-Soar when people have written about a diverse range of interesting objects. I have also led groups of people on Poetry Pathways. These involved walks through a Leicestershire villages, stopping at intervals to read poems, mine or those of other poets. The last one was in Kibworth Beauchamp and I wrote this poem in response to a plaque on the side of the church.


In the village of Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire, at a time when smallpox was rife and a threat, especially to the poor, a plaque on the wall of the church says that a Dr Lewis Powell Williams was passing through the village bringing word about his method of ‘Inoculation without Preparation’ a short method which did not involve laborious and dangerous introduction of matter from the smallpox blisters into a wound as a means of inoculation. He was, according to the plaque, the first person to introduce this method to ‘these shores’. Unfortunately, Williams died during his visit to Kibworth.

This poem iamgines that visit.

The Williams Short Method

(January 9th 1771)

A stranger passing, this man was sealed in stone
like an unscrolled script when bone
light shone off snow

the weight of it on branches crackling
the breadth of it and crows heckling
to the left of it blood speckling

the parchment shrouds of the poor.
The day before, he saw
truth in the half-light, in a half-thawed

land, stood there, a man, before film
could capture this, flickering
across the eye of the village

and there were people bringing chairs;
each woman, man, bears
a chilled soul for a child. He hears

the birds’ wing flutter of their sighs
and rises with the Word, then dies.