Reveling in the pleasures of language, this work speaks with those “…words
born of soul,” words that do indeed “belong to neither the object nor the poet.”
As he evokes a world lit by multiple and masked suns, John Sibley Williams gives
us oblique glimpses–objects viewed through the lenses of shadow, halo, dust,
and fog. His poetry possesses the lyric power to “…hold together like a mouth/
the hard sea, harder earth,/ and what falls from our hands/ along the
– Paulann Petersen
Oregon Poet Laureate
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John Sibley Williams opens his chapbook with a question: “Why fret the
vastness of the world?” His answer is no matter where you are, every moment is
an experience uniquely your own. It is regardless of whether you’re in an Alpine
meadows, or on the banks of the Danube, or somewhere in Vienna but what you make
of the moment that Williams focuses on. “One bouquet takes the place of success,
happiness.” This chapbook is very much about living and relishing the moment,
wherever that moment happens to be.
– J.P. Dancing Bear
Editor, The American Poetry Journal
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Donald Rumsfeld was frustrated by the “old Europe,” where history is made gradually rather than in haste. By
contrast, John Sibley Williams has gathered in The Longest Compass a sequence of poems celebrating those mature cultures. Moving from Vienna and Prague to Turkey and Greece, these subtle, perceptive poems enact a journey into a hard-won appreciation. They move from the bewilderment of “flowers without names” and
“the wilderness below the surface” to gracious acceptance in the final poem, “Foreigner”: “Comfort me, ignorance. / All these tongues / detach, reunite, / roll me in their mouth.”
The early poems in this collection are illuminated by love for the poet’s companion, and by the end we see the same love expressed in particulars: “Imagine mastering a landscape, even a single stairway.” This poet has a tender heart, and can turn a memorable phrase. “Why fret the vastness of the world?” he says in the prefatory poem, in which “the world / fits snugly an eye socket, / is the size of the last dime / in your pocket / you’ve been saving / to quench your thirst.” These poems have traveled a long way, and come to us loaded with experience. The Longest Compass is full of fresh and novel poems that unpack old secrets.
– Paul Merchant
William Stafford Archivist
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John Sibley Williams’ poems carry Michael McClure’s conversational tone along with H.D.’s explorations in an auto-mythology. we are taken to the poet’s place of parallel lines along the path to a city still being constructed at once with doors, bridges, hydrangeas and rhododendrons. the machine in the garden rusts here as the poet pleads, sings and questions for all that is solid to melt into air with the feverish flight of the hummingbird.
– Michael D’Allessandro
Publisher, Bedouin Books
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From Colder Climates is definitely a must-buy.
My initial reading of the powerful first poem “Confessional Hymns” reminded me of Frank Bidart’s “Curse” ([…]). That magically acerbic “empathy-curse” of Bidart is a suitable complement to the equally magical serenity-invocation (curse?) in “Confessional Hymns.”
And “Confessional Hymns” is only the first piece.
All of the poems in this book revolve around desolation and the occasional stirrings of hope by a
narrator in the arctic region (Iceland is specified in many of the poems). Where I live there are no seasonal changes, only alternating sun and rain, so poems that talk about the seasons rarely give me pause. Seasonal poems never deeply appealed to me until now. Williams makes me see winter beyond what I observe in
movies, television, and books.
Winter, in Williams terms, is more than just ice, more than just the monotonous and endless white of snow and
snow-blanketed ground. In poem after poem, Williams rouses with new ways of looking at icy landscapes.
Here’s a truncated section from “Winter.”
“Fish are captured by the inertia of ice. I watch in vain
for a glimpse of life, a flittering gill or darting eye.
I watch and find they even sleep like me,
under masses of covers, dreaming of movement.
And in the air I can only hear the birdless wind cry…
…By the time it finally reaches my ear,
I too feel birdless.”
This passage from “Manners of Distortion” succinctly describes this lovely book.
“I’ve learned the instruments of winter
and that ice distorts reflection
while those elegant ripples signaling rebirth
distort in a different manner.”
Imagine a man who is lost and allows himself to remain lost. Imagine a man who screams in the middle of an icy wasteland — wailing not to be rescued but to point out the marvelous spectacle of what’s beneath the
cold. From Colder Climates seeks warmth, and how it finds it…
– Kristine Ong Muslim
Author, Editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction