Local people featured in the Local Dorset Echo
Gypsy Poet, inspired by Bob Dylan
Saturday 25th July 2009
By Gavin Haines »
IT was the Swinging ’60s, and a young American folk singer, Bob Dylan, captured the imagination of Poole teenager Ray Wills.
“He got me writing poetry,” says Ray, now 64.
“I was inspired by him and since then I’ve written thousands of poems.”
Although Dylan provided Ray with the impetus to put pen to paper, most of his poems are centred around Dorset and his childhood memories of growing up with the gypsies on Canford Heath.
“When I was a kid, there were hardly any houses on the heath,” he says. “I lived on a small farm. We hardly had any neighbours, but there were loads of gypsy camps.”
Back then the landscape was peppered with horses and brightly painted wagons, and Ray made friends with the gypsy children.
“We’d go rabbiting, build dens and make tree camps,” he says.
“We used to meet up with other kids who came down from different areas – we’d walk miles back then to find somewhere to play.”
However, Ray, who used to manage play projects and adventure playgrounds across the country, is concerned that child’s play is dying out.
“The children of today don’t go out to play much any more. There’s that fear factor of things like dangerous strangers and traffic. “Kids no longer seem to climb trees and do adventurous things.
“We used to build camps and do challenging things, but children aren’t allowed to do that these days – they’re over-protected.”
Ray addresses this issue in some of his more recent work, but his poems aren’t just a nostalgic look back through rose-tinted glasses.
A large proportion of his work focuses on the splendour of Dorset.
“The scenery is beautiful, there are lovely walks and there is so much history around here,” he says. “We’ve got beautiful beaches, wonderful places to visit – there are so many lovely spots.”
Ray, who is a support worker in Bournemouth, used to bring children from underprivileged backgrounds to visit this stunning county.
“I used to take kids from slums in Birmingham and bring them down to the Dorset countryside.
“Only the other day I was in contact with a gentleman from Balsall Heath, who came down to Dorset with me in 1969. He’s a train driver now and he remembers it all.”
Ray is currently building up a website called thegypsypoet.co.uk, where viewers can read some of his poetry and view his pictures of Dorset.
“I’m trying to build up the site to cover all aspect of children’s play, gypsies and Dorset,” he explains.
“I’m searching for old pictures and poetry.”
Ray is also a published author and his poems appear in a number of books including Heather Killingray’s Poets’ Pride in Southern England.