Author Archives: William James

About William James

William James is a poet, aging punk, and train enthusiast from Manchester, NH. He's the founder & editor-in-chief of Beech St. Review, a contributing editor for Drunk In A Midnight Choir, and the author of "rebel hearts & restless ghosts" (Timber Mouse Publishing). Follow him on Twitter (@thebilljim) or at www.williamjamespoetry.com

BOOK REVIEW: “RADIANT ACTION” – Matt Hart (H_NGM_N Books)

Radiant Action
Matt Hart
H_NGM_N Books, 2016
[purchase]

review by William James

By page 34 of Matt Hart’s latest book-length single poem Radiant Action, we’ve already been steeped in the idea of noise. It’s a frantic, crashing cacophony of “hardcore vocalists, birds with jet engines, sandbag pilgrims,” a favorite punk rock band playing loud in the basement, the author “wak[ing] up screaming [his] whole throat to red.” Noise is a common thread in this poem, so when we get to the line “Poetry is language made noisy with god” it’s a moment like standing in a field under a storm-dark sky, seeing the clouds break open, and feeling the sudden brightness of the sun piercing the gray.
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Three Erasures – Kythryne Aisling (erasures of Taylor Swift lyrics)

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Sad Barge/Sick Animal – William James

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for Manchester, NH

The midnight sky looks down on the Merrimack 
			& the train horn blows. If you stood even a mile 
		west, you could feel the strain & pop of the couplers 

			as they strain against the pull, but in this city 
	the train passes through beneath the high moon 
				& the only sound that carries to this sleepy apartment 

window above Beech is that distant haunt song. 
			That far off freight cry, the ancient groaning - 
		too far away to hear the whine of steel wheels 

				against the rail, the rattling clank of coal cars 
swallowed by the pitch. A feast of sound. 
		Some long distance harpist is pulling at strings, 
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Three Poems – William James (3)


photo provided by the author
FOX HOLLER, DRIVE

Near a full mile of road 
from here to Wingard's Berry Patch, 
& there's brand new blacktop, 
fresh painted yellow lines, I bet 
you can't get there faster'n me. 
Yer gonna chicken out, 
hit the brakes too early, slow down 
way before the road bends, 
before the curve into the trees, 
yer gonna get so scared 
of a cop hiding behind the billboard, 
scared of a speeding ticket 
or a fiery crash. But not me.
I tell everyone I'm brave 
& step down hard on the pedal, 
push it to the floor, 
I ain't slowin' down for nobody. 
Full throttle everything, always. 
Gonna drive so hard the car shakes 
like it was built on a fault line, 
rattles & shimmies to wake the dead. 
I ain't slowin' down for nothin', 
not even my own fear. You go on, 
drive real slow when that curve comes. 
I know you ain't never catchin' up.
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Three Deconstructions – William James

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photo courtesy of Face The Show (facetheshow.com)

Author’s note: all of these poems were written using a process I’ve come to refer to as ‘deconstruction’ – basically, I take the lyrics to albums by bands who have been influential on me as an artist, copy & paste them in alphabetical order on sheets of paper, and then proceed to write ‘magnetic poetry’ style using only the words that are on the pages spread out in front of me. In each of these poems, every word that was used appears somewhere in the lyrics to the respective album it is inspired by/taken from. 

Deconstruction I: 
all words in this poem taken from "Songs To Scream At The Sun" by Have Heart

Ask me where I'm from & I'll say I live 
in a cold city that reminds anyone of anything 
but home. It's overcrowded & full of guilt. 

I forget how to breathe. I never dance, 
because my heart dwells too long 
on insecurities. Sometimes the mail brings me 

loveless magazines that leave the blues 
in my stomach, because I am afraid 
to be alone. Some nights, I dream that I am 

a song-bird lost in a shoreless ocean 
or a sea of blood. I think of my father 
in his garden – he calls it Paradise, 

will say it's greener than all of Eden. On TV,
there's a man begging to be dragged through 
the fire. His hypocrisy is beautiful in the way 

it's just like my own. I am still 
my mother's only son. The rambling 
prodigal with golden wings. She will 

always keep photos of me on the windowsill. 
I will always break every mirror. I will always 
long to be swallowed by the water.
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How To Build A Castle/How To Kill A Wolf – William James

How To Build A Castle/How To Kill A Wolf
for Garrett Janos. Rest in peace.
 
You've been here before, standing weak-kneed 
before some figure of authority, swallowing every few seconds 
in a vain attempt to choke down the shame, 
the feelings of failure, that gnawing dread forming

a cancerous mass at the base of your throat. You try 
to remember it all differently than how it ever really happened, 
try to reinterpret the past, but the past always returns
exactly as it happened every time before.

You remember when you were nine, forced to act as 
a messenger of your own shortcomings. You held a war-zone
in your hands; blood colored slashes on white sheets of paper,
gossamer wings riddled with angry wounds.

Every crimson lash marked
a question for which you had
no correct answer.

How that note mocked you in the margins –

	please take this assignment home,
	have it signed by a parent,
	and bring it back to my desk
	by tomorrow.

Professional thieves have never practiced forgery 
with the same intensity as you, hoping to strike 
the perfect level of credibility to avoid the burning
stinging in your face as you showed your mother
proof that you were nothing but a failure.

You've been here before, 
telling yourself with complete conviction
that this is all you'll ever be. It comes in waves – 

first, the collapse of confidence 
as every bit of  positive reinforcement 
you've ever been given comes crashing down;
next, the staggering self-doubt – victims of car crashes,

head on collisions at highway speed have felt 
the same compression in their chests,
and they, like you, were never fully braced for the impact.
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#1 – An Open Letter to Henry Rollins Re: “Fuck Suicide”

RollinsWide

This week, Drunk in a Midnight Choir celebrates our One Year Anniversary! Since we launched on February 6, 2014, we’ve had the great privilege of publishing a whole lot of amazing work, from a wide array of talented contributors. All week, we’ll be catching you up on some highlights from the last year. Here we present to you the top ten most-read posts of the year, counting down from ten.

The circumstances of this post were a bit of a blur for me, but I’ll try to recount them as best as I can. See, I was in the hospital recovering from a semi-serious abdominal surgery. Between the pain medication and general grogginess, I was pretty out of it. Standing up for more than thirty seconds was pretty difficult. People came to see me and I can barely remember the visit, much less what we talked about. I had pre-scheduled a few posts, but I had anticipated a light week on the site. I was wrong.

On Thursday, Henry Rollins wrote his piece for LA Weekly, in reaction to Robin Williams’ death, claiming it was cowardly and selfish it is to commit suicide. William James wrote him the following letter, and soon after received a response from Rollins himself. He wrote to me saying he wanted to publish both the letter and the response on the site. I was still doing all of the posting then, and wasn’t sure I had the energy for even the minor effort of getting it up. I told him I would get it up as soon as I could manage and then fell into bed, exhausted, my head spinning, convinced I couldn’t get to it until the next day. But the words in the letter kept roiling in my brain. I knew it couldn’t wait. I knew it was too important. I swooned deliriously in front of my computer, cutting and pasting, and got it posted. I hoped that I hadn’t missed any typos, but I figured I could check again tomorrow. After all, it was a Friday afternoon in the middle of August. Classic dead air for any kind of serious reading. I figured there wouldn’t be many readers until Saturday morning, and no real serious traffic until Monday .

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than an hour later when I got emails from both Eirean and William, saying “Are you seeing this? This is big. This is really big.” I checked the numbers. Nope. Not big. Whopping. Humongous. Massive. The amount of readers was almost a thousand already, and steadily climbing. It climbed all weekend, into to the thousands, and it’s been steady ever since. It is far and away the most-read post on DMC. I’m proud that we’ve been able to feature it, and it speaks to everything I hoped this site would and could be– heartfelt, courageous, noble, irreverent, intelligent, beautiful, heartbreaking, true… Perhaps even life-changing. For when you feel alone– alone inside your own shame and pain and confusion– what is more powerful and necessary than a voice that tells you “No, you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. You’re not shitty. You’re not hopeless. You matter. I know. I know it because I’ve been there. Exactly there and I know just how it feels. And let me tell you, take it from me– you can get better. There is help. Don’t let this fucker, this supposed hero, don’t let him shame you. Don’t let him put you in that box because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know a damn thing. Listen to me. I know.”

Really, what voice matters more than that?

-tg

 

[On Thursday, LA Weekly published an article, titled “Fuck Suicide,” by Henry Rollins, as part of his weekly column. William James wrote the following letter to Rollins and then received the response that appears afterward.]

Dear Henry,

If I may, I’d like to first say that I’ve considered myself a fan for many years. When I was 25, I happened upon an audio copy of Black Coffee Blues, which – I say without much exaggeration – changed my life. I started writing because I read your journals, and then proceeded to fill SO GODDAMNED MANY Moleskine notebooks of my own. I used to tell myself “if Henry Rollins can find time to write every day, then so can you.” And yes, I admit that if you were to scan through those archives, they would be the epitome of what the kids these days are calling “first world problems” but the point is I started writing. I kept at it, even when I didn’t feel like it, because you were so fucking prolific, and I had to try to live up to that standard. Continue reading


After 18 Months the Sentence Is Commuted

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August. 
Grace is crying and bleeding in my backseat, spilling 
sadness on the upholstery like copper & ink. Years later 
in a poetry workshop, I will attempt to write about the stain 
that will never come out & this memory will haunt me 
like a stubborn ghost.


November. 
I read that rabbits have to constantly chew 
to file down their teeth or else sharp enamel 
will erupt from their lips, splitting the flesh 
beyond repair. Overcome with my own need 

to chew, I pinch my most sacred sharp thing 
between my fingers & turn out the lights. 
Let the dark swallow me. Welcome the embrace 
of the knife.
 Continue reading

An Open Letter to Henry Rollins Re: “Fuck Suicide”

RollinsWide

 

[On Thursday, LA Weekly published an article, titled “Fuck Suicide,” by Henry Rollins, as part of his weekly column. William James wrote the following letter to Rollins and then received the response that appears afterward.]

Dear Henry,

If I may, I’d like to first say that I’ve considered myself a fan for many years. When I was 25, I happened upon an audio copy of Black Coffee Blues, which – I say without much exaggeration – changed my life. I started writing because I read your journals, and then proceeded to fill SO GODDAMNED MANY Moleskine notebooks of my own. I used to tell myself “if Henry Rollins can find time to write every day, then so can you.” And yes, I admit that if you were to scan through those archives, they would be the epitome of what the kids these days are calling “first world problems” but the point is I started writing. I kept at it, even when I didn’t feel like it, because you were so fucking prolific, and I had to try to live up to that standard.

Time passed, as it is wont to do, and soon all those unfocused complaints of mine started to take shape into something better. I started writing poems. I thought at first they were song lyrics, but every punk band I tried to start fizzled out well before we could get anywhere, so I started saying I was a poet instead because somehow that seemed less embarrassing. I still wrote, damn near every day. I started going to open mics and readings. I got brave enough to read my shit in front of people, because – once again – “if Henry Rollins can do it, so can I.” This slowly but surely led to my spending two years on the road with various bands, hollering a batch of poems to sad punk kids before the mosh pit started. As I toured, I read Get In The Van. My copy of that book right now shows almost as much wear as my mom’s Bible – I read it about once a year to refresh my memory. I go into every feature, every show, remembering what Chuck Dukowski once told you, that whether there’s 3 kids or 300, I owe it to them to give it 110%. I’ve always admired your work ethic. I’ve even read passages from Get In the Van to younger writers when I’ve been asked to lead workshops. I don’t much buy into the idea of idols or heroes, but if I did, you’d be as close to one as I’ve ever had. I’m telling you all of this because I need you to know that I’m coming from this as a fan. I read your recent article about Robin Williams’ death from suicide, and felt this great sinking feeling in my gut. Perhaps you know the feeling – it’s the one you get when someone you’ve admired, and even considered a bit of a role model, says something so profoundly against everything you believe that you wonder if you can even in good conscience keep supporting that person. Continue reading


After

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“good artists copy, great artists steal…”

– probably Picasso…maybe T.S. Eliot, or Faulkner, or Steve Jobs. Definitely NOT Banksy.

 

When I was a wee lad of 12 or 13, right at the age where boys want to start being thought of as men, I used to wear my dad’s work jacket. I’d take it off the hook in our kitchen, slip it on, and run off to the bathroom so I could look at myself in the mirror. I’d see my reflection, wearing a coat that was two or three sizes too big for me, and imagine the day when I would be “all grown up” enough to wear a jacket like that for myself. Obviously it didn’t fit – way too large in the torso, the sleeves would swallow up my entire arms, and it hung all awkward and gangly off my too-narrow shoulders – but I’d look at myself in the mirror and think “damn, I look so much like a Real Man” now.

When I first started being ‘serious’ about my writing (as opposed to keeping sad boy poems in a secret journal that I never showed anyone) I was living in a town in western Pennsylvania, with a population of 480 as of the most recent census. There wasn’t a poetry scene there, no writer’s workshops, no regular readings – for that matter, there weren’t even people willing to openly admit they wrote poetry for fun and pleasure. Poetry in my hometown is something that is imposed on you around middle school; you read whichever stuffy bit of canon your teacher is enamored with this semester, learn JUST enough to pass the class, then hand your book back in and forget all about it. However, while I may not have grown up in a town whose poetry scene flourished, I grew up among the blue-collar-and-red-neck type, which meant I had learned a lot about tearing something apart to see how it worked. It turns out that poetry isn’t much different than an old transistor radio; if you pull all the pieces apart and pay attention to how they fit together, you can figure a lot of things out without a manual. Continue reading