I’ve long been a fan of Jonathan Williams, peripatetic poet, lover of all things eccentric and dialectal, and founder of The Jargon Society, which has published both Lorine Niedecker and White Trash Cooking. You can get a sense of the man from an extensive interview published by Rain Taxi; here’s a quote to give the flavor:

Uncle Remus says: “Hit run’d cross my min’ des lak a rat ‘long a rafter.” I have a mind like that. It darts and shimmies all the time. It thinks of six things (besides sex) all at once. So the trick is to slow down, focus, concentrate. Someone said that craft is perfected attention. I like making well-crafted books, and poems, and images, because it pleases me so to do. And it’s nice to please some of one’s friends now and then. I have never cultivated a commercial audience. I try never to do anything just for money, and I seem to have been quite successful at that. My old friend, Ephraim Doner (whose father had been an Hassidic rabbi in Poland), once told me about “The Lamed-Vov.” In the ancient Hebraic tradition the Lamed-Vov were the 36 great souls of the earth. Wonderfully, they never knew they were great souls, but Yahweh knew. If they dwindled to fewer than 36, then Yahweh would pull the plug and go to work on a better animal. As long as we can sell 36 copies of a Jargon book, we will keep at it.

And here are a couple of poems; his poems are frequently based on the words of interesting people he’s run across, in this case the great poet Basil Bunting:

My Quaker-Atheist Friend, Who Has Come to This Meeting-House since 1913, Smokes & Looks Out over the Rawthey to Holme Fell

what do you do
anything for?

you do it
for what the mediaevals would call
something like
the Glory of God

doing it for money
that doesn’t do it;

doing it for vanity,
that doesn’t do it;

doing it to justify a disorderly life,
that doesn’t do it

Look at Briggflatts here . . .

It represents the best
that the people were able to do

they didn’t do it for gain;
in fact, they must have
taken a loss

whether it is a stone next to a stone
or a word next to a word,
it is the glory
the simple craft of it

and money and sex aren’t worth
bugger-all, not

solid, common, vulgar words

the ones you can touch,
the ones that yield

and a respect for the music . . .

what else can you tell ‘em?

And in this case an Appalachian lady:

Miss Lucy Morgan Shows Me a Photograph of Mrs. Mary Grindstaff Spinning Wool on the High Wheel

Miss Lucy tells that one day
a visitor asked Mrs. Grindstaff
“What are you doing?”

she said “Spinning.”

the tourist said
“Why doesn’t it break?”

she said “Because I don’t let it.”

the charred heart does not break in Appalachia, they
have not let it . . .

the loom hums



  1. I posted his obit here.

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