Tyrone Williams is a philosophical poet, “down home” or even “homely” in a familiar sense. He is honest about everyday experience in itinerant America, “The houses into which we move, / The houses in which we move our bodies, / Remove the histories of our skins” (29). This discomfort is also mine. It pervades Adventures of Pi (Dos Madres 2011).
Williams’s mind is a machine; his soul is generous. He recycles and repurposes what he has read, joining the postmodern with lessons from unexceptional daily experience. I find Deleuze and Disneyland, Benjamin in Hollywood, Adorno in a used car lot. Adventures of Pi is populated with automotive embodiments and disappointments: Escorts, Tempos, Mavericks, Cobras, Dodges, Benzes, BMWs; the loves and disappointments associated with driving, tired and weary, sad or drunk. The economics that force a man in particular to identify with his car is thematic to this particular version of America. I think of Ronald Johnson and his “Terraplane” where the singer returning home from prison just knows things in his world have gone terribly badly for him in his absence. “Death Drive” sums this theme: “There’s a car inside a man / and on his own he cannot work it out” (70). Melancholy and recognition of compromised manhood are central to the American psyche. There’s an effort not to bleed-out, a resolve. “Death Drive” ends “Accompanied by the strumming of the windshield wipers / he is singing a song to the sky // And his song is pouring from him / hemophiliac…”
Maybe there’s a child in the back seat, humming. I also hear Williams’s deep reading of Russell Atkins. The largely underappreciated Cleveland poet, Atkin’s is a subject of Detroit-born Williams’s study in multiple senses. Reading Atkins enables Williams to muster and impart his own wise and melancholic perceptions. In Atkins, I hear that “strumming,” so hypnotic to Williams. In “While Waiting for a Friend to Come Visit a Friend” (courtesy of Aldon Nielsen and Lauri Ramey’s Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone), Atkins writes:
the attendant keeps watch, watching
that abrupt wild geranium grow a bat’s ears
sardine flowers, moon’s eggs,
stomach guitar (13)
Multiple echoes of lessons learned from the scored speech and wisdom of Russell Atkins inform the pages of The Adventures of Pi, for instance “White Girl” (13) or “Hallucinogenic Toreador” (45) where I found these lines:
of the painting nor a poem about the postcard or the painting or a
postcard or a painting zebras leap
over red blue white house stamp
below dateline blue
tribes from the north spread down and out as tributaries to the south-
west territory of the moor (by way of S. Petersburg descendants).
Beyond the riddle and humor of “what is red and white?” reading zebras, there are moors / Moors? And of course, St Petersburg is in Florida. The field of associations in open.
An omnivorous reader, absorbing tonalities and thematics, during the summer of 2014, Williams graced the pages of Jacket 2 with multiple short reviews of the works of contemporary, post-language poets. Concerning recent work by Julian Brolaski, he wrote, “Usage begets and outpaces grammatical and syntactical rules.” This statement applies as well to Williams’s own poetry as it does to the metropolitan imagery of Brolaski. “Brolaski and the metropolitan imaginary,” Aug. 22, 2014. http://jacket2.org/commentary/brolaski-and-metropolitan-imaginary.
The concluding poem of The Adventures of Pi gathers together many grammatical loose ends. Many poems end with a flourish: “no end to spectacle in the theater of cruelty // I’ll be waiting for you in the cardiology wing” (76). The failure of love to redeem echoes through multiple tender poems. “And I knew we’d never talk about the night / we tried to pretend we could fall sleep / in each other’s arms” (“Collage: Cross-Country Skier / Hannibal’s Son” 28). There’s a false note here. Hanno, a Carthaginian hero, perhaps Hannibal’s son, is mentioned by Ezra Pound in “Canto 40.”Is Williams following Pound in order to acknowledge the place of the African in the roster of heroic achievement? That’s hardly necessary. Perhaps for reasons similar to those that lead Kamau Brathwaite to mention Pound and Basil Bunting in “Letter Sycorax” (Middle Passages). In any case, Hanno by reason of his periplum along the West coast of Africa counts as one of Pound’s hero/mapmakers.
Today the search for heroes of any sort only leads to fascism. That’s my private Brechtian morality. Boundaries, rather than resolving too often complicate human needs. In a snowstorm “white dotted lines are useless.” The image comes from “Border Clashes” (25-27). The poet his been to Canada. Returning to Detroit, he is challenged by the “flashing licenses and teeth” of the border agent. In a club, he experiences “the sweat of a hundred / worlds, the sweet and sour stench / of bargain-brand soap.” He is mindful of a couple that “had been found dead / in each other’s arms: / murder-suicide.” The poem concludes, self-medicated with booze, as the working classes have always done, “We weave our ways home, / as best we can, / in lanes of our own making” (25-27). It’s best to suspend our individual judgments and listen and reflect as Williams does on the commonalities of our human experience.Donald Wellman