John Sibley Williams

John has an MA in Writing and resides in Portland, OR, where he frequently performs his poetry, works with Ooligan Press and HoboEye, and studies Book Publishing at Portland State University. His poetry was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Some of his over 100 previous or upcoming publications include: The Evansville Review, Ellipsis, Flint Hills Review, Euphony, Open Letters, Cadillac Cicatrix, Juked, The Journal, Hawaii Review, Cutthroat, The Furnace Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Aries, The Alembic, Clapboard House, and River Oak Review.

To me, there is a difference between fact and truth in poetry, as there is in all creative forms. Most importantly in a narrative framework, actual facts can get in the way of, even become obstacles against, the honesty of a situation. It is the truth behind something that people relate to, not the thing itself. Therefore, I usually take a personal truth or nagging question and try to create a personal (conceptual or visceral or both) experience that others can grasp intuitively. If a location or specific occurrence is involved, the reader need not have lived it to understand the truth behind it. In fact, I need not have directly lived it. I tend to start with an honest, emotional experience and create facts to support it, hoping the poem resonates universally.

“Answering Where?” is a perfect example. While I was living in Vienna, a friend who recently returned from Morocco related a specific scene to me:

Imagine evening is breaking into night, with neither sun nor moon claiming dominance, just colors, and you are mid-city Casablanca, alone and lost amid unknown languages and an unstudied culture, just wandering, and you turn a dusty corner to find what seems like a mile of refuse aflame. The smoke pours up into the sky, masking the claustrophobic buildings. People walk around it as if were a puddle or a dead dog, or they stoke it with the day’s household garbage, and kids swarm it like a playground, tossing things into it. The city has no garbage collection, so the people simply pile it in the street and periodically set it ablaze. It was rather beautiful.

Her description haunted me. I could not shake it. So I put myself there and began writing the scene in colors and sounds and silences that may or may not accurately reflect the facts, but hopefully reflect the situation’s honesty. From my own journeys abroad, I stole the fear of the unknown, the loneliness and yet the wonder of languagelessness, that sense of otherness and the people I have encountered that embody it, and the moon, which seems to be what all travelers look to for solidarity, for a stable foothold connecting them to home. From my friend, I stole the narration. And from Hafiz, I stole the mood that seemed most appropriate, that resonated with me— that beauty inherent in the other version of our world.