Williams, Jonathan (Chamberlain)

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WILLIAMS, Jonathan (Chamberlain)

Nationality: American. Born: Asheville, North Carolina, 8 March 1929. Education: St. Albans School, Washington, D.C., 1941–47; Princeton University, New Jersey, 1947–49; Atelier 17, New York, 1949–50; Institute of Design, Chicago, 1951; Black Mountain College, North Carolina, 1951–56. Military Service: Conscientious Objector: U.S. Army Medical Corps, 1952–53. Career: Since 1951 executive director, The Jargon Society, Inc., publishers, Highlands, North Carolina. Scholar-in-residence Aspen Institute, Colorado, 1962, 1967–68, poet-in-residence, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, 1968–69, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 1971, and University of Delaware, Newark, 1977; visiting poet, Wake Forest University, North Carolina School of the Arts, Salem College, Winston-Salem State University, all North Carolina, all 1973, and University of California, San Diego, 1982. Since 1980 curator, Jargon Society Archive, State University of New York, Buffalo. Since 1960 vice president, Cast-Iron Lawn-Deer Owners of America. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1957; Longview Foundation grant, 1960, National Endowment for the Arts grant 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1978, 1981; Coordinating Council of Little Magazines award, 1974; Carey-Thomas award, for publishing, 1977; inductee, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, Southern Pines, North Carolina, 1998. D.H.L.: Maryland Institute College of Art, 1969. Address: P.O. Box 10, Highlands, North Carolina 28741, U.S.A.; or, Corn Close, Dentdale, Sedbergh, Cumbria, LA10 15QG, England.



Sixmas. Privately printed, 1950.

Tactilopera. Privately printed, 1951.

Garbage Litters the Iron Face of the Sun's Child. San Francisco, Jargon, 1951.

Red/Gray. Black Mountain, North Carolina, Jargon, 1952.

Four Stoppages. Stuttgart, Jargon, 1953.

Lord! Lord! Lord! Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1959.

The Empire Finals at Verona. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1959.

Amen Huzza Selah. Black Mountain, North Carolina, Jargon, 1960.

Elegies and Celebrations. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1962.

In England's Green & (A Garland and a Clyster). San Francisco, Auerhahn Press, 1962.

Emblems for the Little Dells and Nooks and Corners of Paradise. London, Jargon, 1962.

Lullabies Twisters Gibbers Drags. Highlands, North Carolina Nantahala Foundation, 1963; as The Macon County North Carolina Meshuga Sound Society, Jonathan Williams, Musical Director, Presents: Lullabies, Twisters, Gibbers, Drags (a là manière de M. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, late of the City of New Orleans), London, Jargon, 1963.

Davenport Gap. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1963.

Green Corn thru a Cow or Where Were You When the Culture Explosion Hit the Fan? Privately printed, 1965.

Petite Concrete Suite. Detroit, Fenian Head Centre Press, 1965.

Twelve Jargonelles from the Herbalist's Notebook. Bloomington, Indiana University Design Department, 1965.

Ten Jargonelles from the Herbalist's Notebook. Urbana, University of Illinois Design Department, 1966.

Four Jargonelles from the Herbalist's Notebook. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Lowell, 1966.

Paean to Dvorak, Deemer, and McClure. San Francisco, Dave Haselwood, 1966.

Affilati Attrezzi Per I Giardini di Catullo (bilingual edition). Milan, Lerici Editore, 1966.

Crafts of the Southern Highlands. New York, Craft Horizons, 1966.

Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol. London, Marlborough Gallery, 1967.

50! Epiphytes, -taphs, -tomes, -grams, -thets! 50! London, Poet and Printer, 1967.

A French 75! San Francisco, Dave Haselwood, 1967.

Polycotyledonous Poems. Stuttgart, Hansjorg Mayer, 1967.

The Lucidities: Sixteen in Visionary Company. London, Turret, 1967.

Eight Jargonelles from the Herbalist's Notebook. Bloomington, Indiana University Design Department, 1967.

LTGD. Bloomington, Indiana University Design Department, 1967.

Les Six Pak. Aspen, Colorado, Aspen Institute, 1967.

Sharp Tools for Catullan Gardens. Bloomington, Indiana University Fine Arts Department, 1968.

A Bestiary for Anti-Laodiceans, Lamed-Vovniks and Lacandons. Aspen, Colorado, Aspen Institute, 1968.

Ripostes. Stuttgart, Domberger, 1968.

An Ear in Bartram's Tree: Selected Poems 1957–67. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

On Arriving at the Same Age as Jack Benny. Urbana, Illinois, Finial Press, 1969.

Six Rusticated, Wall-Eyed Poems. Baltimore, Maryland Institute Press, 1969.

The Apocryphal Oracular Yeah-Sayings of Mae West. Baltimore, Maryland Institute Press, 1969.

The New Architectural Monuments of Baltimore City. Baltimore, Maryland Institute Press, 1971.

The Patagonian Declaration of Independence. Urbana, University of Illinois Design Department, 1971.

Strung Out with Elgar on a Hill. Urbana, Illinois, Finial Press, 1971.

Blues and Roots, Rue and Bluets: A Garland for the Appalachians. New York, Grossman, 1971.

The Loco Logodaedalist in Situ: Selected Poems 1968–70. London, Cape Goliard Press, 1971; New York, Grossman, 1972.

Epitaph, with Thomas Meyer. Dentdale, Cumbria, Jargon, 1972.

Fruits Confits, with Thomas Meyer. Privately printed, 1972.

Lord Decca Dent's Weaponry Guide to the Devices of the Pentland Hills Oral Rearmament Society. Wilsden, Bradford, Yorkshire, Blue Tunnel, 1973.

Andrew Marvell Wanders in the Grassy Deeps along the Wharfe at Nun Appleton House and Attains a Small At-one-ment. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pomegranate Press, 1973.

Clipped Greens. Dentdale, Cumbria, Finial Press, 1973.

Adventures with a Twelve-lnch Pianist Beyond the Blue Horizon. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA, 1973.

Who ls Little Enis? Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1974.

Five from Up t'Dale. Kendal, Cumbria, Finial Press, 1974.

Hasidic Exclamation on Stevie Smith's Poem "Not Waving But Drowning." Storrs, University of Connecticut Library, 1974.

Pairidaeza. Dentdale, Cumbria, Jargon, 1975.

My Quaker-Atheist Friend. London, Larry and Ruby Wallrich, 1975.

Joyfull News out of the Newfounde World. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1975.

Gists from a Presidential Report on Hardcornponeography. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1975.

A Wee Tot for Catullus. Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, Moschatel Press, 1975.

A Celestial Centennial Reverie for Charles Edward Ives. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA, 1975.

Imaginary Postcards. London, Trigram Press, 1975.

gAy BC's. Champaign, Illinois, Finial Press, 1976.

In the Field at the Solstice. Champaign, Illinois, Finial Press, 1976.

Untinears and Antennae for Maurice Ravel. St. Paul, Minnesota, Truck Press, 1977.

An Omen for Stevie Smith. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Sterling Library, 1977.

A Blue Ridge Weather Prophet. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1977.

Super-Duper Zuppa Inglese. Belper, Derbyshire, Aggie Weston's 1977.

A Blue Ridge Weather Prophet Makes Twelve Stitches in Time on the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1977.

E.A.N. Privately printed, 1977.

5 Entries in the Commonplace Book of Jonathan Williams Dated Early 1978. Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1978.

A Hairy Coat near Yanwath Yat. Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1978.

Elite/Elate Poems: Poems 1971–1975. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1979.

JW, on the Road Selling That Old Orphic Snake-Oil in the Jargon-Sized Bottles, 1951–1978. Washington, D.C., Visual Press, 1979.

Shankum Naggum. Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College Friends of the Library, 1979.

The Delian Seasons. Bradford, Yorkshire, Topia Press, 1979.

Glees, Swarthy Monotonies, Rince Cochon, and Chozzerai for Simon. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA, 1980.

Homage Umbrage Quibble and Chicane. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA, 1980.

Poem on His Name, on His Birthday, February 18, 1980. Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1980.

An Arabesk for Frederick Delius at the Year's End. Buffalo, State University of New York, 1981.

Get Hot or Get Out: A Selection of Poems 1957–1981. Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press, 1982.

Niches Inches: New and Selected Poems 1957–1981. Privately printed, 1982.

Lexington Nocturne: A Poem by Jonathan Williams as Interpreted by Keith Smith. Rochester, New York, Keith Smith, 1983.

"And He Hath Sown …" Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1983.

62 Climerikews to Amuse Mr. Lear. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA/JCA, 1983.

The Fifty-Two Clerihews of Clara Hughes. Atlanta, Georgia, Pynyon Press, 1983.

In the Azure over the Squalor: Ransackings and Shorings. New York, Jordan Davies, 1983; revised edition, Highlands, North Carolina, Otis, 1984; enlarged edition, Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1985; enlarged edition, as Quote Unquote, Berkeley, California, Ten Speed Press, 1989.

Taoist Foretaste of Spring. Privately printed, 1985.

Dear World, Forget It! Love, Mnemosyne: A Range of Letters, 1984–85. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA/JCA, 1985.

Calling All Jargonauts! Calling All Lapsed Lamed-Vovniks!!! Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1986.

Noah Webster to Wee Lorine Niedecker. Minneapolis, Origin, 1986.

A Discrete Sign on the Steinway in the Phillips Memorial Gallery. Minneapolis, Hermetic Press, 1986.

An Announcement: Elizabeth Crommelin Melby Davies. New York, Jennifer Melby and Jordan Davies, 1986.

Week Number 4 from Jonathan Williams's Day Book "An Enchiridion of Asps." Rocky Mount, North Carolina Wesleyan College, 1987.

Jonathan Williams: Week No. 5. Milwaukee, Woodland Pattern, 1987.

Rivulets and Sibilants of Dent. Bradford, Yorkshire, Topia Press, 1987.

Uncle Gus Flaubert Rates the Jargon Society in 101 Laconic Présale, Sage Sentences. Hanes Foundation, Rare Book Collection/University Library, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, 1989.

Aposiopeses. Minneapolis, Granary, 1988.

Dementations on Shank's Mare. New Haven, Connecticut, Truck Press, 1988.

Metafours for Mysophobes. Twickenham, Middlesex, North and South, 1990.

Quantulumcumque. Asheville, North Carolina, French Broad Press. 1991.

Only Forty Minutes More. Highlands, North Carolina, The Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 1991.

Anathma Maranatha. New York, The Press of Richard Minsky, 1993.

No-No-Nse-Nse. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, The Perishable Press, 1993.

Horny & Ornery. Highlands, North Carolina, The Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 1994.

St. Swithin's Swivet. Woodchester, Gloucestershire, John Furnival Editions, 1999.

Recording: Get Hot or Get Out, Watershed, 1982.


Lines about Hills above Lakes. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Roman, 1964.

Descant on Rawthey's Madrigal: Conversations with Basil Bunting. Lexington, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1968.

The Appalachian Photographs of Doris Ulmann. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1971.

Clarence John Laughlin: The Personal Eye. New York, Aperture, 1973.

The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1974.

How What? Collages, Texts, Photographs. Dublin, Georgia, Mole Press, 1975.

Portrait Photographs. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, and London, Coracle, 1979.

Jonathan Williams: A Poet Collects (exhibition catalog). Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Southeastem Center for Contemporary Art, 1981.

The Magpie's Bagpipe (essays). Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1982.

Lord Stodge's Cood Thing Guide to Over 100 English Delights. Roswell, New Mexico, DBA/JCA, 1985.

The Concise Dentdale Dictionary of English Place-Names. Highland, North Carolina, Otis, 1987.

Le Garage Ravi de Rocky Mount (essay). Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Wesleyan College Press, 1988.

Jonathan Williams' Quote Book 1992–93. Highlands, North Carolina, Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 1994.

Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen. New York, Dim Gray Bar Press, 1994.

26 Enlarged, Engorged Polaroids. Dentdale, Cumbria, Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 1994.

Long Taters: Johnathan Williams' Quote Book 1994. Highlands, North Carolina, Press of Otis the Lamed-Vovnik, 1996.

Editor, Edward Dahlberg: A Tribute. New York, David Lewis, 1970.

Editor, Epitaphs for Lorine: 33 Poets Celebrate Lorine Niedecker. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1973.

Editor, The Sleep of Reason, by Lyle Bonge. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1974.

Editor, Madeira and Toasts for Basil Bunting's 75th Birthday. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1977.

Editor, I Shall Save One Land Unvisited: Eleven Southern Photographers. Frankfort, Kentucky, Gnomon Press, 1978.

Editor, Donald B. Anderson at 70. Highlands, North Carolina, Jargon, 1989.


Bibliography: Jonathan Williams: A Bibliographical Checklist of His Writings, 1950–1988 by James S. Jaffe, privately printed, 1989.

Manuscript Collections: Jargon Society Archive, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and State University of New York, Buffalo.

Critical Studies: Introduction to An Ear in Bartram's Tree: Selected Poems 1957–67, 1969, and Jonathan Williams, Poet, Cleveland, Asphodel Book Shop, 1969, both by Guy Davenport; "The Sound of Our Speaking" by Robert Morgan, in The Nation (New York), 6 September 1971; by Herbert Leibowitz, in New York Times Book Review, 21 November 1971; by Raymond Gardner, in The Guardian (London), 3 July 1972; in Vort 4 (Silver Spring, Maryland), 1973; Fiftieth Birthday Celebration for Jonathan Williams edited by Jonathan Greene, Frankfort, Kentucky, Truck-Gnomon Press, 1979; "A Quarter Century of The Jargon Society: An Interview with Jonathan Williams" by William Corbett, in The Art of Literary Publishing: Editors on Their Craft, edited by Bill Henderson, Wainscott, New York, Pushcart, 1980; "Piping Down the Valleys Wild" by X.J. Kennedy, in Parnassus (New York), 12(1), fall-winter 1984; interview by Jim Cory, in James White Review, 11(1), 1993; interview by Leverett T. Smith, in North Carolina Literary Review, 2(2), 1995.

Jonathan Williams comments:

(1980) I am primarily a poet, but since we do not live for ourselves alone, I have always assumed (since 1951) that the publishing of my poetic enthusiasms was part of the job. And the reading of poems aloud to audiences, which I have done approximately twelve hundred times from Vancouver to Wien.

I have been called a Black Mountain poet, a beat poet, a southern-poetry-today poet, a light poet, an informalist poet, a formalist poet, a concrete poet, a found object poet, a relentlessly and tiresomely avant-garde poet. To my knowledge all I am is a poet; like anyone else, I write as I can.

The masters of delectation and precision are my mentors: Blake, Marvell, Buson, Archilochos, Martial, Catullus, Dickinson, Ono no Komachi, Basho, and Whitman. From more immediate times: Pound, William Carlos Williams, Robinson Jeffers, Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Olson, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Stevie Smith, Basil Bunting, J.V. Cunningham, James Laughlin … I use all the devices I know, all the tricks in Orpheus's black bag; if it is possible to move rocks and trees, it is just possible to keep ice from forming in other human hearts. Poems are passionate things to give courage to those who respond to their messages. I write for those who long for the saving grace of the language. I never write for Laodiceans. The gentle reader and I are going to go round and round. Richard of St. Victor teaches us that in art and in life there are more things to love than we could possibly have imagined. "Odi et amo," said Catullus. I want Catullus in the poems and Willie Mays and Thomas Jefferson and Charles Ives and Apollo and hill farmers and people who talk trash. The language is airy, earthy, Regency, witty, offensive, etc., whatever it needs to be. This is your friendly local, ecological Logodaedalist talking.

*  *  *

Like most folk remedies, Jonathan Williams's poems have a little vinegar in them. They can either be celebratory, as witness his many epitaphs, or meant to increase circulation by chaffing. He recognizes that poems can be jokes in their compression and timing and that timing can have a greater effectiveness than sincerity or moral indignation. God is pun. No ear bends our own closer to the intricacies of words, the multiplicity of play possible in a word, than Williams's. More a lodestone than semiprecious, he has a nose for irony and finds it everywhere in the world around him.

Williams is a public-spirited private man who keeps gravestones swept clean and foibles clear of hypocrisy. Since sexuality is one of the most abused of our notions, it gets a good deal of Williams's attention. A man of judgment, he honors and condemns. He is an incessant observer, constantly contrasting haut monde with down home. He knows the moeurs of his people, and he sizes up a culture in a flash:

come on,
Lummy Jean Licklighter
in an attic
over near Viper!

For Williams the first American poem might have been the one carved by Daniel Boone on a tree after he killed his first bear, unless it was the one on the tree at the colony at Roanoke. Poetry occurs wherever people have invested in words, whatever they have trusted to the permanence of letters. His is a poetry of use, whether as cenotaph or whammy-diddle, such as that whittled by his acquaintance Sam Ward. I hear America singing: "o the Smokies are ok but me / I go for Theosophy, / higher things, Hindu-type philosophy, / none of this licker and sex …" Wherever there is man there are sneezes, scratching, and foibles.

In terms of contemporary literature Williams is a Ben Franklin, another active man in the world, or else like the women in "Aunt Creasy, On Work": "shucks / I make the livin / uncle / just makes the livin worthwhile." The subjects are not just American or Appalachian either. The following is from "Bessie from the Hebrides":

well then, what do
you do with all the steel wool
you steal?
well then,
I'm knittin'
a kettle!

He can scowl and scold when he wants to ("Cobwebbery"), but it is a modest enough goal he is after: "The poet, as ever, has little to offer but the veracity of his ears and eyes, in the hope he has kept them sharp and affectionate." Yet neighborhoods, universities, cities may rise or fall on such a principle.

Williams has a primitivism combined with a nobility of outlook and refined exactitude. He is rarely introspective, and all the searching, one senses, goes on before he discovers the poem. He and Twain would have conversed famously. He is rarely descriptive, seldom prescriptive, but unusually perceptive. Is he a Luddite? Was Samuel Johnson? There seems to be a forgiving quality before any hauteur has a chance to take hold. He is one of the few poets about whom it could be said that he has never bored a reader. That is because there is nothing he does not find interesting. Inertia does not stand a chance. He picks up, shakes, sniffs, squints at, and puts back something exactly where he has found it or slightly atilt in a new light. He handles every word, every name, to see if it rattles, to find if it reverberates with primary or secondary meanings.

Williams has been the ideal reader for some fifty of our best writers and musicians and photographers, including Bunting, Dahlberg, Olson, William Carlos Williams, Mingus, Meatyard, Siskind. It is no wonder that he has fifty "cosmic" readers in return who are loyal to him like the initiates of a cargo cult. Perhaps loyalty more than any other value besides wit is what he commands. What sort of man sets out to be an epigrammatist for our times? One who insists on the last word, a man fearful of his own oblivion, an upholder of the value of friendship, a thrifty man cleansed of cynicism. Heaven knows, it requires as much energy to chisel an inscription as to let loose a heart.

—George F. Butterick

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