Based in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, and for many years also in the Yorkshire Dales in England, both Williams and his publishing venture had long been associated with the Black Mountain Poets. Among the press's offerings are works by Charles Olson, Paul Metcalf, Lorine Niedecker, Lou Harrison, Mina Loy, Joel Oppenheimer, Ronald Johnson, James Broughton, Alfred Starr Hamilton and many other works by the American and British avant-garde.
Once described as a "a busy gadfly who happened somehow to pitch on a slope in western North Carolina," Williams was a living link between the experimental poets of Modernism's "second wave" and the unknown vernacular artists of Appalachia. Guy Davenport likened Williams' use of "found language" to the use of "found footage" by avant-garde filmmakers, as well as describing Williams as a species of cultural anthropologist. Williams for his part explained the fascination of such material in plainer terms:
“Well, as you know, a lot of my poetry is found and that’s, I think, because I think I’m quite a good listener and I’m willing to lay back and listen, and I think it’s something do with living in the country. I mean, this place, Skywinding Farm, there are times when Tom Meyer and I will only see somebody from the outside world once or twice a week. And we’ve known each other so long that we don’t talk as much as we might. Tom can talk up a storm, He’s up there in the Duncan/Olson class. So I like to listen and I like to hear things, so if you listen carefully then you do find things. I do it all the time. I mean, you know the early book, Blues and Roots, which was done in the course of walking a big piece of the Appalachian Trail, I listened to mountain people for over a thousand miles and I really heard some amazing stuff. And I left it pretty much as I heard it. I didn’t have to do anything but organize a little bit, crystallize it, you know. That’s the thing I love about found material, you wake it up, you “make” it into something.”
The literary critic Hugh Kenner described Williams as the "truffle hound of American poetry."
A longtime contributing editor of the photography journal Aperture, Williams lived in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina.
Jonathan Williams, 1991, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1124090)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude by Jonathan Williams
Paperback: 174 pages
Publisher: David R Godine; 1 edition (October 1, 2002)
Amazon: A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude
As a country, America has never been a slouch at producing "originals," a term applied loosely and glibly to everyone from rock stars to CEOs. But if any place of the past century really did spawn originals like a breeding box, it was Black Mountain College, and among its many illustrious graduates is Jonathan Williams: poet, publisher, raconteur, and eclectic collector of like spirits. In this wonderfully quirky book, Williams has made the rounds and produced his inventory of poets, painters, writers, and artists whose only commonality is their unequivocal distinction. And what a world it is, populated by his friends, some alive and some quite dead, people he knew, and people he wished he had known; famous people (Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Paul Strand, Buckminster Fuller, William Carlos Williams), people who should be famous but aren't (Basil Bunting, Frederick Sommer, Aaron Siskind, Wendell Berry, Charles Olson, James Laughlin), and the gravestones of some who were once famous, are now interred, and whose memories he'd have us honor (H.P. Lovecraft, Wallace Stevens, Erik Satie, James Thurber). Musicians, writers, composers, and especially the white and black geniuses of Outsider Art (Howard Finster, Elijah Pierce, Keith Smith) are all here, alive and kicking, in Williams's heaven of honorary prodigies.
This self-contained galaxy, this "home-made world" of extraordinary personalities captured on film and then decoded in extended captions, presents people of genuine accomplishment who are never going to be feted in the pages of People or interviewed on Oprah. As Davenport writes, "He is not a journalist looking for feature stories, nor a critic with an agenda, nor a lion hunter collecting names to drop. A cultural anthropologist? I see parallels with Ruskin finding forgotten painters of the Trecento." Here is the flip side of America, where fame seldom intersects or coexists with true talent, and where the truly gifted often inhabit their own domains, hermetic, unseen, unheralded, but always present in the creative flux of our cultural landscape.
Jubilant Thicket: New and Selected Poems by Jonathan Williams
Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press (November 1, 2004)
Amazon: Jubilant Thicket: New and Selected Poems
Jonathan Williams founded The Jargon Society—a publisher dedicated to poetry, experimental fiction, photography and visionary folk art—and has championed the underdog, maverick and outsider in the arts for 50 years. He has also published over 100 of his own books, pamphlets and broadsides of poetry, essays and photography.
Jubilant Thicket collects the best of his poetry and teems with the eccentric, strange and boundlessly authentic—neoclassical poems, social satire, musical suites and lyrics. There is spleen, salt and a delicious -sarcasm, as Williams finds inspiration in Mahler and Mojo Nixon, Blake and whimmydiddles.
Blues and Roots/Rue and Bluets: A Garland for the Southern Appalachians by Jonathan Williams
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press Books; 2nd edition (August 9, 1985)
Amazon: Blues and Roots/Rue and Bluets: A Garland for the Southern Appalachians
Jonathan Williams’s poetry has been described as brilliant, sensuous, lyrical, quirky, suave, vital, joyful, sardonic, melodious, passionate, alive, pyrotechnic. This new, much enlarged edition of Blues and Roots displays all of the above. Williams has tramped the Appalachian Trail for decades, botanizing, jotting down specimens of authentic American speech, graffiti, superstitions, and nostrums—always curious, alert, and affectionately attentive. Blues and Roots focuses on the linguistic horizon of Appalachia in lyrics of wonder and light, of wit and comic incongruity, in found poems of the speech of his mountain neighbors. Publishers Weekly said of the earlier edition, “One of the most beautiful and evocative tributes to the Appalachians and its people yet published.” Blues and Roots is a fine celebration; Wiliams is a joyful ringmaster.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
This journal is friends only. This entry was originally posted at http://reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org/1454588.html. If you are not friends on this journal, Please comment there using OpenID.