It’s not unusual for creative gifts to come in bunches; there are numerous examples of great poets who were also talented painters, essayists, or musicians. But seldom does one find a poet who is also an accomplished fan, and that, in a nutshell, is Williams. The author of nearly 100 books and chapbooks, Williams is also known as the founding editor and publisher of the Jargon Society. In that capacity, he has spent over 30 years uncovering and publishing works as important and idiosyncratic as Mina Loy’s The Last Lunar Baedeker and Ernest Matthew Mickler’s White Trash Cooking. Here’s largely the product of those adventures as poet and publisher, with the resulting assemblage of portraits and thoughts providing an intimate look at an impressive number of 20th-century writers, painters, and photographers. In terms of drawing a reader to a subject, no one dishes up prose better than Williams. Here’s an excerpt from a blurb for the illustrator Bill Anthony: “No doubt about it, Bill Anthony, like the one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest, is in a league by himself.” Though Williams almost makes a religion of irreverence, it is his incredible generosity of spirit and interest that rises from these pages. His portraits capture the essence of his subjects, sending readers scampering to the shelves to see for themselves the works he’s unearthed. While his constant cry is the typical poet’s lament—“Dear Sir, I, too, am sobered by the revelation . . . that the death of Mrs. Frederick Bowen in Bartholomew, Alabama, leaves only 83 poetry readers in the entire nation”—the humor present in every line of this collection should convert even the most virulent versophobe.
Over 40 must-read vignettes from the one poet in America happy not to have won a MacArthur.