The Universal Mr. Williams

Let’s just use this brief poem/as an excuse to stand together/upon a winter cliff/in utter silence/naked/blue-fleshed/accepting that we are not made for every climate.

As a man, John Sibley Williams is tall in every sense of the word. As a poet he is specific; his work embodies the wayfaring human experience with admirable honesty.

Williams writes with both an exceptional sense of self and style, distinctly allowing the audience to explore his words.

“I don’t write about myself… [it] doesn’t seem universal. That’s always been really important to me”, he says. The poet instead focuses his attention on Inflectionism, a small literary movement he developed with colleagues. The movement aims to “respect both the poet and the reader, both words and interpretation.” Instead of being guided through a poem, readers are encouraged to explore.

“From Colder Climates”, a booklet authored by Williams, exemplifies Inflectionism well. The collection describes his journeys in Iceland while allowing the audience to journey themselves. Bless the moment between waking and understanding, he writes in his ethereal opening poem “Confessional Hymns”, when such purity of new morning blinds us/ to what the night undid.

Williams puts particular emphasis on the concept of white space, the unwritten part of the poem, the blank part of a page. “Words themselves require room to breathe,” explains Williams. White space does exactly that, providing a balance between where the words begin and where they end. Inflectionism, and white space give readers a chance to have their own experience with the poem, a concept that makes Williams’ work interactive and unique.

As best described by current Oregon poet laureate Paulann Peterson, Williams pays “special attention to the music in his work”. His rhythm reads smooth, and as he writes himself, like an expression of love. Each word is purposeful and savored.

Much of Williams’ talent can be attributed to his heavy involvement in the Portland literary and creative scenes. Williams has been a participant and featured reader across the Northwest, including the Studio Poetry Reading and Open Mic in Portland. Leah Stenson, host of the Studio Poetry Readings, noted his reading style as “intensely concentrated” and “completely involved.” With such affection for words an audience wouldn’t expect anything less.

Since he moved from Boston three years ago, Williams has collaborated with many writers, musicians, and artists in the PDX area as well. The Moonlit Guttery Team is one such group, a conjunction of musicians and poets harmonizing as a single entity. Their performances combine the musical aspect of spoken word poetry with percussion and guitar accompaniment, creating a sublime mix between rhyme and rhythm evident in Williams’ writing as well.

His work with the intimate Moonlit Poetry Caravan poetry group has also helped to edit and shape his writing. Fellow writer, co-founder of Inflectionism, and friend A. Molotkov illustrates Williams’ work as “occupying the space between the statement and its meaning.”

As a writer, Williams is a representation of the large number of the creative people in Portland. His more than 200 publications include work in the Bryant Literary Review and the Flint Hills Review. Williams is the author of six independently published booklets with a seventh to come soon this year, and is the winner of many writing awards.

Like many other writers and artists in the PDX area, Williams also maintains an 8-5 office job. “The economic climate made anything more applicable to my… passions impossible”, he says.

In today’s economy this balance is becoming more common, particularly in areas where the creative population is so active, like Portland. This fading distinction between professional and recreational artists in the United States is particularly evident in the Northwest. According to a 2009 study by NAMTA 3.2 million Americans consider themselves recreational artists, selling some of their work occasionally. Only 600,000 adults consider themselves professionals.

The average unemployment rate for all unemployed artists reached 9.5% in 2009, over double the percentage of other unemployed professionals in the United States. With these kinds of statistics, it is no surprise artists in the Northwest are taking non-creative jobs to support themselves and their families. In addition to his day job Williams also works as a freelance literary agent and publicist for literary magazines, writers, and presses, allowing him to put his higher education and knowledge of the literary world to use. “I hope to find a career, not just a ‘job’ in [this] field soon,” says Williams.

One among many, Williams has strong competition in a sea of artistic visionaries and literary enthusiasts. Yet success is relative. As the poet himself modestly writes, One bouquet takes the place of success, happiness.



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John Sibley Williams on Poetry

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April 25, 2012 · 7:10 pm

John Sibley WIlliams, Poetry Reading

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April 25, 2012 · 7:08 pm

WSU Vancouver Community Choir Performs April 25

The WSU Vancouver Community Choir will perform work from Felix Mendelssohn and others at their free concert on April 25th.

Beginning in the fall semester of 2001 with only twenty members, they have since grown into a well-rounded group of performers. Nearly forty students, faculty, and staff from WSU Vancouver, as well as community members from around the area sing together in one of our campus’s “best-kept secrets.”

The diversity featured in the WSU Vancouver Community Choir is beneficial for everyone involved. “[The choir] gives us the opportunity to sing and form friendships that we wouldn’t necessarily have been able to,” said Debra Barnett, the group’s president.

Students are especially impacted by this collaboration. “There wouldn’t be enough students to form a whole choir on their own,” explains Barnett. Only a quarter of the current members are WSU Vancouver students, although there’s hope that number will increase soon.

The choir’s conductor Lee Jennings explained, “It has been proven over and over that participation in music improves the academic accomplishments of students”. Students at WSU Vancouver in the choir are able to can also register to earn credit for their participation for one credit per semester.

Freshman and Biology major Sarah Neveux said, “Singing has definitely been a stress reliever from harder math and science classes. It trains a different side of my brain.”

WSU Vancouver has few other opportunities for students interested in music. “We would love to see a music program here,” Barnett elaborated. “[More musical opportunities on campus] would be good for this university, and community.” Unfortunately this does not appear to be in the making.

In its eleven years of existing, the choir has performed a variety of pieces. “I usually choose a theme for the concert and find music to fit the theme,” said Jennings. Their vast repertoire includes music from the Southern hemisphere, as well as a collection of songs by the Beatles.

The choir has also performed songs in seven different languages. “Those are always a little bit more difficult,” said Neveux.

No matter your musical experience, all students and community members are encouraged to join, no audition required. If interested, contact Debra Barnett at

The WSU Vancouver Community Choir will perform on April 25 at 12:00 in ADM 110. Admission is free.

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The Soapmakers: Mount Sapo Live


Three Vancouver teens under the name “The Soapmakers” completed their first EP last month, entitled Mt. Sapo Live. Emanating the ingenuity of legends like Jack White and Jim Morrison, this trio has found musical success in their community.

Originally students at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics (VSAA), The Soapmakers banded together almost a year ago. Their love of music came from musical visionaries such as Pink Floyd, The Black Keys and Jimi Hendrix, as well as the natural vibe of the world. Such inspiration is evident in their music, heavy and passionate and in rhythm with the rest of the world.

The Soapmakers have been featured at many local venues, from Pop Culture and the Brickhouse in downtown Vancouver to the Fairgate Inn located in Camas. Often their shows also include other local bands; A Reason to Sleep In; The Electric Carnival; Rope, String, and Thread; and the Shivas.

Their first EP features five original songs composed and recorded by Stone Laurila, Sage Van Tilburg, Quetzel Herzig, and David Tang, VSAA’s recording arts teacher and mentor of the Lennon Bus experience in Vancouver. The album, full of deep drums and howls, is a trip through sound.

Self-explained as “an earthly mix of heavy, steady rhythms with the cries and chants of a celebratory, sacrificial night”, the Soapmakers’ new EP promises to cleanse your soul.

The Soapmakers can be found on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook as well as

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Portland Poetry Slam

Poetry flows through beating hearts of the writers in Portland, Oregon. Be it honest, sincere mementos of childhood or quick blows at the boundaries of gender, the Portland Poetry Slam houses many different forms of the written word.

Last weekend, I found myself at the Backspace Café, a brick building covered on the inside with drawings and paintings, and scented with the hype of a shared bond, a love of poetry.

It was the semi-finals for the Portland Poetry Slam. About a dozen poets from Portland shared their work with a packed audience in competition with each other for a place in the finals. Winners of the finals in Portland would continue to the national level, explained as party of poetry and booze by the Slam’s host Doc Luben.

Also featured was Christian “Mother-fucking” Drake, a traveling poet and a six time national Poetry Slam finalist. His poetry ranged from sweet murmurs of love since lost to the craving passion of humanity. His hand motions gave individual characters life, his sound effects context for the punch lines to come.

The audience moaned and snapped in agreement to words we could all connect to. We cheered and clapped with enthusiasm because words honestly mattered. It was obvious a community had been formed, a group that the Portland Poetry Slam had fostered.

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Growing new actors and comedians in the community

Settled on Main Street in downtown Vancouver sits the Magenta Theater Company. Celebrating its tenth season, this organization of students, community members, and volunteers are dedicated to producing plays accessible to broad audiences across the Portland/Vancouver area.

Magenta Theater creates their plays with the help of the entire community. Auditions for all plays and roles are open. In addition, the theater holds volunteer orientation sessions to help integrate others interested in the many opportunities Magenta Theater offers, like experience with lights and sound.

The Magenta Improv Theater is the improvisation group concentrated at Magenta. Auditions are open and held periodically, but participants are expected to have prior experience elsewhere. Performances usually occur three to four times a year.

Magenta’s founder and artistic director Jaynie Roberts describes the difficulties running a community theater. “There are a few people who make monetary donations to the company but mostly we are self-sufficient.” Currently, there is not grant money available to local theater groups either. Fortunately, Roberts has maintained a sustainable business model. “We only spend what we make” from ticket sales, she says.

Their latest show is an adaption from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. Roberts describes the show as “simple and ethereal”. Shows in the month of March include “A Night of Family Friendly Improvization”, “Best of Country Music Review”, and “Sealegs— Board to Death”, a dinner theater show in collaboration with the Rosemary Café downtown.

Magenta Theater is located at 606 Main Street, Vancouver, WA 98660.

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