I was recently asked to participate in an experiment of sorts in promotion of poet John Sibley Williams’ latest collection, Disinheritance (Apprentice House Press). John has asked fellow poets to record readings of their favorite poems from the new collection, all with an eye/ear towards how other poets interpret and perform the work. I found the concept fascinating and am happy to present my own contribution to this reading “tour” of the book.
For this project, I chose “Things Start at Their Names,” specifically because of how the poem performs on the page. While the poem starts off with the image of ice locking “the river in place,” everything that follows begins to push against being locked. This push gesture is furthered in the select italicized words, each phrase used as a name in the poem’s argument. What this move does both typographically and conceptually is push the lyric towards speech and voice, as if wanting to “unlock” from ink and rise. A name is what one is “called”; here, each italicized name calls out and summons specific colors to itself and to the poem. One calls out a name in hope of a response; reflecting on the title, a name can be seen as the start of this hope.
In performing this poem, I found myself going at a slower pace than usual. There is something in the construction of the poem that, when read aloud, seems to want to echo the locked ice image and the metaphorical pushes against it. Each time I practiced it, I found myself halting at different times, different phrases; eventually this energy began to feel inherent to the poem.
I want to thank John Sibley Williams for the invitation to participate in this promotional project. I can only hope my reading of it does it justice.
Things Start at Their Names – John Sibley Williams
Ice locks the river in place and my heart
is static for the season and traversable.
Sometimes a boy about the age
my son would be adventures
half way across me before remembering
the duty to destroy the one thing
beneath him. He writes his name
on my rib; it says Curiosity. I reply
with the name I’ve learned to wear:
Distance. A fluster of bluegill follows his body
downstream to where it meets the Columbia,
in time the ocean, which I cannot make freeze.
Next spring I will snare the things that still move in me,
beat them against stone, and eat until empty. I have
his name written all over my body; it says Forever
be Winter. My wife calls him Gabriel; after all these years
she still calls him Gabriel, and sometimes from the shore
she calls to me: Thaw.