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.