Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Review: 'Skin Memory' by John Sibley Williams

Skin Memory by John Sibley Williams

‘Skin has a memory all its own and because memory is a language that’s survived its skin’

Oregon poet John Sibley Williams is becoming one of America’s leading poetic voices. He holds a BA in English (with a minor in Philosophy from State University of New York Albany, an MFA in Creative Writing from Rivier College and an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where he served as Acquisitions Manager of Ooligan Press and Marketing Manager of Three Muses Press. He co-founded the Inflectionist poetry movement, edits its journal, The Inflectionist Review, and serves as Board Member of the Friends of William Stafford and Co-Director of the Walt Whitman 150 organization. He also co-founded the Moonlit Poetry Caravan, a Portland-based critique group. He is also a writer and a literary agent. The handsome young poet is the author of nine poetry collections for which he has been frequently honored and awarded prizes – SKIN MEMORY is his most recent anthology, winning the Backwaters Prize in Poetry.

Throughout the pages of this mesmerizing book John allows us time to ponder about the concepts he places into poems – grief, loss, death and dying, identity, tragedy, awakening to some greater aura of being. The poems are grounded in reality, all the more available to enter our philosophy into the stages John creates. And hope is there – at times vague and in shadows but there nonetheless. But as with all fine poetry, the works speak louder that praise for them.

Symptoms of Shelter

If I could reconcile the fullness 
of the moon, of the black oak
tonight’s moon illuminates,

with the bodies I’ve seen
in photographs hanging from 
an oak at night in just this light.

There are only so many perfect
moments allowed us; why
must they all end with the sky

constricting, bleeding , the trees
emptying of birds. Buckshot
in the distance. Dog bark and


goodnight. Everywhere
the dead and nothing
to be done. This familiar field

now going strange
How lucky I have been
To love, and love blindly.

Poems such as this one fill the pages of this richly evocative collection of thoughts made accessible to each of us. There is no doubt that John Sibley Williams is a major voice in poetry today.