Ray Webber was born in 1923 in Redcliffe, Bristol, of Welsh parents, Charles Webber and Kate Regan. His father was a left-wing activist and his mother a Catholic. The family lived in poverty and Ray had a poor education leaving school at the age of 14. When he was 18 he was conscripted into the army to fight in the Second World War. He left the army in 1946 and it was during his final year in uniform that he began writing poetry.
His earliest work was influenced by Shelley, Keats, Byron, Tennyson and the Romantics, culminating in a Dylan Thomas phase extending into the Fifties. He continued studying literature and art in his spare time and became intrigued by the work of T.S. Eliot. Over the years, Webber’s work has been recognised by many academics and fellow poets as being of the highest quality, but he has always shunned publicity. He published a booklet in the 1970s but subsequently destroyed all of his work. The poems in this volume have never before been published. They were selected by his friend, the poet and musician Steve Bush.
THE BEAUTIFUL MIRACLE OF CHILDBIRTH
my real name
is Mervin Derryberry Grubcock.
my father was a part-time docker
and a full-time anarchist.
my mother was a full-time domestic slave and a double-time catholic saint.
i was born 1923 Bristol central slums
in a street that went by the nickname
Dry-rot Terraces and Firetraps.
on the evening that my mother
went into what’s known as labour
nothing was quite shipshape and Bristol fashion.
the bedbugs were crawling over everything
the backstreet midwife
arrived stinking drunk
and busted her nose on a tall iron bedpost.
my father slipped on the stairs
while carrying the boiling water
scalded his chest and fractured his wrist
and was carted off to hospital.
a prostitute was knifed
in a pub across the street.
a bomb went off in the blacksmiths' yard
and a man next door was arrested
on a charge of attempted necrophilia.
and while all this was going on
my mother was howling like a dog
and saying her rosary at the same time.
after the midwife had dragged me into the world
she drank another quarter of gin
and passed out puking in the shithouse.
neighbours cleaned the place up
and my father came home from casualty
with his arm in a sling
and a 2-pint flagon of stout
in each of his overcoat pockets.
after draining a flagon straight down
he said to me: Mervin old son
if we can survive a night like this
we can take all the shot and shell
this fucking battlefield of existence
or what they call life may throw at us.
of course we were all very young
and foolish at the time.
Rudolph Valentino ruled the world
and everyone was doing the tango.
as to whether my survival was a good thing
i’ve often had reason to doubt.
Responses to High on Rust
'What a fierce sense of energy, vitriol and devilish laughter. Webber’s verse crackles with acerbic energy and political rage.' Andrew F Giles, poet, translator, critic
'Webber's poetry has a richness of time, place and experience. It feels highly relevant to our politicised times.' Dr Edson Burton, writer, historian
‘If James Joyce had sat in a bar with Frank O’Hara, they could have used the pen name Ray Webber for what they came up with. Inconvenient truths drip from his pen as he echoes the ‘primal scream of the cosmos’.’ Chris Hunt, editor, Broken Ground Press
'Webber writes that he’s ‘the poet who abhors the poetic’. That’s a lie. But his poems aren’t cutesy odes – they are direct, unfiltered and darkly, darkly funny.' Michael Shaw, former deputy editor, The Times Educational Supplement