∫ The Joe Milford Poetry Show, August 11, 2013. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/joseph-milford/2013/08/11/joe-milford-hosts-john-sibley-williams
(Excerpts below…click on links for full reviews):
We will no doubt be seeing Williams more on the literary landscape. With a style sleek and spare, he also offers thoughtful, musical, and generous verse to gently challenge the reader to take charge of all of poetry.
This book is well-titled. It contains the poetry of allusion. Williams’ go-to symbols are such elements as the sea, mirrors, birds, or even gravity itself. These appear frequently in this poetry of transparent mystery.
‘Controlled Hallucinations’ is a collection of questions, interiors, and barriers—stepping into the world of these poems means being alone with your thoughts and the images and associations your brain creates only in its quietest moments.
‘Controlled Hallucinations’ by John Sibley Williams is a debut collection that breaks down the barriers between reality and fantasy in ways that will remind readers of Salvador Dalí and the surrealists one moment and a spiraling, broken hearted romantic.
‘Controlled Hallucinations’ is bare ghostly work of vision. It is a work of negative space, a work of spare words, a work of economical images, and a work of ache.
The title of John Sibley Williams’ poetry collection, ‘Controlled Hallucinations’ conjures a contradictory state of mind: a sensual disturbance that is both strange yet restrained, an experience that pushes the limits of meaning yet remains within familiarity. The poems themselves are an expression of the philosophy of life as a mixture of opposites that cannot always be reconciled. Williams’ images are suitably contradictory, as he sets about posing the question: can the poet move beyond existing language, with its preconceived meanings, in order to create new paradigms of expression where dissonance and harmony co-exist?
A Whitmanesque tone, you might say, and you would not be far off; but there is something else here, coming from a different source; an element of alienation that works against the Dionysian, a dark tincture of Romantic irony that hits us right from the beginning and the dedication: “to the coming extinctions.” Not, mind you, “to the coming generations.” The early Neruda of Twenty Love Poems and a Despairing Song, the only poet quoted in epigraph by Williams (XXVIII, page 38), is a closer-to-the-mark elegiac tone, one where we can hear Heinrich Heine’s irony filtered through, and translated into Spanish, by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.
Through these controlled hallucinations, Williams maintains a conversational tone with his reader, which draws them into each poem. The reader pauses in mid-poem, only to reexamine the poem once again, before reaching an unpredictable last stanza. It is the knowing or un-knowing he examines, as he writes in the last stanza of LXIII, I know only one thing: there is no un-knowing. This poet takes us from rooftops to mountain tops, from churches to graveyards, from the bedroom to the great heights of the sky with a view you may not have considered, a view worth the read.
These poems make you think, but not in a hectoring, didactic tone of a televangelist or social media scold, but they make you think like a David Lynch movie or a Remedios Varo painting. They aren’t immediately strange, but become more uncanny the longer one contemplates, rolling the phrases on the tongue, and then ingesting them, their meanings sometimes flowering in the reader’s consciousness, sometimes not.
Controlled Hallucinations surprises with graceful lines and striking imaginings of the many ways in which a person can navigate relationships with others and with the world outside one’s self.
The value of the kind of synthesis of distance and intimacy that John Sibley Williams achieves in Controlled Hallucinations goes beyond the fact that calamity is always both personal and impersonal. Without the comfort offered by distance, catastrophe is overwhelming. Without a sense of the intimate meanings of disaster, its meaning is lost. “[T]he coming extinctions” demand that poets move beyond debates over being subjective or universal and, instead, learn how to be both.
The tone and sensibility remind me of Jack Gilbert’s work: the diction is plain and spare, the world messy and immense, the narrator a man intent on grappling with how “nothing quite fits”, and how he remains separate from the spaces presented to him.
Re-reading his poems gives yet another meaning. The knowing turns to un-knowing.
We enter the poetry of John Sibley Williams as birds, as questions, as entities eluding definition. We wonder around, we get lost, we find ourselves again. We get lost. We might never want to leave.
John eschews “raw” and “edgy” in favor of intimacy and reflection.