These verses explore issues of social justice and America’s legacy of slavery, together with relationships and spirituality.
Williams’ debut collection of 50 poems starts off with “People Wonder Why My Eyes Red:” (nearly all of the titles end in a colon). This statement about the speaker locates him in personal history: “My eyes are red because of my dad; he is not dead. / His trait passes down the family tree.” The redness here has to do with pain and bodily suffering, agony that can only be kept at bay with alcohol. In a later poem—“Red Eyes Tell My Struggle:”—the quality of redness now signifies not pain but rage, a consequence of the speaker’s “addiction for freedom.” This hints at a greater historical context for torment, although this insight gains the speaker little. Again alcohol comes into play, for which the poet pays a price, in this well-phrased line: “I drown my fire while drowning my cheer.” Many other pieces in the volume weave back and forth in this way between history, biography, and the toxicity of racism. This can become polemical, as in “Police State:” (“We feel the hand of the police state. / In parting freedom, we contemplate our fate. / As their system of laws turns protectors into the terrorist. / They lie, steal and imprison to maintain self-interest”). Typical of most works in the collection, this one reveals obvious alignments with slam poetry, which has roots in the oral tradition and tends to emphasize attitude, rhyme and slant rhyme (state/fate; terrorist/self-interest), repetition, and political engagement. The danger with polemics is that it can overtake poetic qualities like subtlety, imagery, and unexpected connections, allowing righteous emotion to substitute for a more thoughtful approach. Is it the system of laws itself, for example, or systemic racism that makes bad cops? Such lines read more like an op-ed piece than a poem.
Sometimes Williams offers a fresh and intriguing line, as in describing an ambiguous revelation: “Plumes of smoke billowed out a prediction of zero.” For the most part, though, the collection has a heartfelt but amateurish quality. Williams too often makes word choices to fill out a rhyme: “I am a hero to some, to some others no identity, isolated and satanic,” he writes. What’s “satanic” about being isolated? Nothing, but the word provides a slant rhyme with “rabbit” in the next line. Some lines don’t make much sense at all, like “The planes were like horses that fly like vultures.” But horses don’t fly like vultures; they don’t fly at all. The love poems tend toward the saccharine: “You and me; me and you; our hearts blend too.” And one poem is disastrously misconceived, “A Poop Relationship:” (although the colon at last has some right to be there), which manages to combine the gross and the twee: “Poop is the waste from the digestive tract. / How does poop in a relationship interact?” asks the poet, concluding with “I offer you this tip: / Avoid a poop relationship.”
Emotional but rarely subtle poetry.