REVIEW – Rebel Hearts & Restless Ghosts – William James


“Some would say our bodies shook on the day we met the flames.”

William James has been a writer whose work I have admired for years. He has been on a National Poetry Slam team that I coached, featured in venues where I have been on the organizing team, been in slams that I have bout managed at IWPS, and been an important part of the North(b)east Slam scene since he moved there. I am very proud of him, as a peer and friend, for writing this book, rebel hearts and restless ghosts. This work is at home in the dirtiest street ‘Zine as in the New Yorker or Paris Review. As a poet, I’m a little bit jealous of his range.

“On the very best of nights, there’s blood; on the very best of mornings it pools beneath the surface of our skin.”

This is an impressive collection in every way. From artistic design, to content, to originality and accessibility, William James and Timber Mouse have done something very special here. You won’t find an alpha male in this book. You won’t find anything other than love for the sake of love and caring for the sake of caring.

“I held death’s wrists with my hands, peeled

its clawed fingers away from my throat, and lived”

From tales of his poor upbringing, to punk show horrors and salvations, to some of the most beautiful, brutal poems about suicidal thoughts and depression, William James has something you should hear.

“The first time your father curses God, your mouth

Is a slow speed car crash wrapped around his oaths.”

Stand outs include “Kneeskinner” and “Reclamation,” but the home run (in my eyes, and must admit to pre-knowledge of the poem) is “Monument” – about the Golden Gate Bridge and its relationship with the countless suicides that have taken place off of what has been called the most beautiful bridge in the world. This has been one of my favorite poems of all time since the first time I saw him read it- every bit as raw and unflinching as the person who wrote it. A no-bullshit explanation of the terrible moment when some of us leave the world, why it would seem like the answer, doing so by using a personified bridge to explain the sadness, the helplessness, some of us feel when losing someone we love to themselves. I will not include any quotes from that poem. Not because it will not translate out of context, it would, but because you owe it to yourself to read this poem beginning to end and know all the truths inside it.

I  would be remiss if I led you to believe this is a one poem pony, quite the opposite actually. There are MOMENTS here; a meditation moment poem after John Cage that I will not ruin for you, but is so wonderfully brilliant I am amazed it wasn’t always a poem; a poem that explains how to love a broken boy in ways many have never considered before.

If you start with Jim Carroll or Harry Crews, add some straight edge clarity with a neoclassical twist, throw in righteous anger and mix it with hardcore punk rock, you have a poet who is vital and important. A writer who will never take a poem off because he’s a working class poet and hard work is the only work he knows how to do. And, like my father says, “hard work is the best work.” Order this book, or if you can, catch a reading of his. You will not be disappointed.


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