Review of After Economy by Penny Boxall

So grateful for this beautiful review of After Economy by Penny Boxall in The Compass:

If Burns’s collection is like the soothing chatter of grownups, the voices in J. L. Williams’s After Economy are more akin to the half-heard voices of dreams – compelling, disorientating, moreish – leaving you, on waking, wondering what just happened. The endorsements inside the front cover contain, from Eleanor Wilner, a delicious paragraph of praise for Williams’s writing:

For some reason, slightly unfathomable, I am reminded of a forest we visited on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido where the annual winter ice festival is held. The forest is sprayed for days by the local fire department, but not before flowers and colored lights have been hung within the branches . . .

The resultant ‘crystal forest’ – ‘all so unexpected, and so extravagantly beautiful’ – is what is called to Wilner’s mind by Williams’s poems. It is pleasing to turn to the first page and read the title poem, which details this process, presumably drawn, in its turn, from Wilner’s description:


The first rinse takes some time, a glassy sheathing,

the second ices each branch quick and soon

the entire frozen forest glitters and shimmers

from within – each bulb encased in ice

a mouth through which the final word

of the world is shining out; light, light.


Wilner’s impression of the experience of reading these poems is recreated aptly by Williams’s poem and, in a further meta-move, this could be a description of the experience of reading the collection as a whole. The first reading ‘takes some time, a glassy sheathing’, but as the chill thaws there are chinks to let the light through, and a sense of the shared.

There is also a wry sense of fun at play throughout the collection. Take the cheekily-titled ‘New Aesthetic’, which runs, in its entirety:


the whale carcass on the beach with nearly all the flesh washed away

the taste of those salty bones defamiliarising words


We are cast into a strange ocean, for sure, where words have their own undercurrents. Incidentally, the cover design – an abstract whale skeleton in linocut by Anupa Gardner, blue vegetation twining the ribs, a glass ceiling above, so that it is not clear whether we are inside or out – could have inspired this poem just as much as it might illustrate it. Williams’s poetic walls are porous, and inspiration is a two-way process.

The prose-poems scattered throughout the collection, each tailed with a haiku like the moral to a Perrault fairytale, are of particular interest. ‘Watching Breaking Bad you realise both that your evil stepfather, similarly, sacrificed himself to his own personal disappointments and that Walter White is the character in the old story who forgets to ask the genie for the ship in which to bring the treasure home before he loses the magic lantern’, one opens. So the three characters – stepfather, Walter White, the character from the old story – are simultaneously distinct and one-and-the-same. The summary-haiku (which raises more questions than it answers) has it: ‘The red glittering / destruction of the self which / is also the heart.’ The heart slowly beats us into oblivion: a neat (if uncomfortable) thought, and one of many fecund ideas in this rich, strange collection.



Adjacent Pineapple

I had such a nice time reading at Colin Herd‘s new/old night Snack Revenge a couple weeks back (more details here), and really enjoyed meeting and hearing the forceful, crackling work of the poet Judith Goldman. Sadly, the marvellous Terese Svoboda wasn’t able to make it, but we had a full house in the room I used to attend classes in when I was doing the MLitt some years back. Colin has been a force for good in the Scottish poetry scene for years now, and I don’t know how he manages to keep so many balls in the air, but he is lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow (while commuting through from Edinburgh), running Snack Revenge, has just started this fabulous publication called Adjacent Pineapple and his new book came out and was delightfully shared at a triple book launch with impressive readings also from Daisy Lafarge and Sam Riviere at Rhubaba last Friday. I am filled with admiration! We had a really interesting conversation on the way home about the lack of SCOTTISH POETICS and whether there should be some work done to encourage this. I think, yes!

Have a read of my contribution to the first Adjacent Pineapple here.


Events: Summertime & the Living is…

A little summary of the handful of events I have coming up… would be wonderful to see you at one, some or all if you can make it along.

The Compass

So delighted to have a couple of poems in the beautiful new online journal The Compass.  Have a look here, and be sure to check out the rest of what they’ve been up to – it’s a wealth of poetry.

Poetry Notes

imageI’ve been writing down my recent thoughts about writing and publishing, some gleaned from doing and some from conversations with poets and publishers, and thought I would post them in case they’re useful for anyone.

Poetry Notes by JL Williams

“Nothing forced works.” Kay Ryan

  • Don’t think about who you’re writing for, but consider why you are writing.
  • Explore other forms (art forms, poetic forms, literary forms, styles, voice and tone) and decide what you like working with at this point in time. That might be everything, one thing or something in between. Do what challenges and excites you. If you like working with other people, find other people to work with. If you like working on your own, work on your own.
  • If you feel the desire to write, write.
  • Write now, edit later.
  • Edit when you’re in the mood to edit.
  • Send poems out to magazines when you’re not in the mood to write or edit.
  • If you’re stuck, read a poem.
  • Read old poems. Read a variety of poems. Read poems you like. Read some poems you don’t like and learn from them.
  • Give yourself assignments. Give yourself deadlines. Give yourself little, do-able tasks.
  • Have a look at the poems published in magazines before you submit to the magazines.
  • Wherever possible, use the editor’s name when you’re sending them poems.
  • Decide if you are writing for yourself, for your loved ones or to share your work with the public. If you want to share your work with other people, decide if you want to perform it or publish it or both. Go to events, meet other poets, join workshop and reading groups if this is useful for you. Support other poets.
  • You may find that you prefer to stay in and read and write, and send poems out to publishers directly without marketing yourself online and in person, and that’s okay too. You may find that at different times in your life you need to explore different ways of being and doing.
  • Listen to other people, study, explore and find your own truth. You will hear many answers to your questions, but you have to find the answers that feel correct inside you.
  • Trust yourself and your own instincts and intuitions. Defend and stay true to that which feels original and important to you. Learn to bend when it’s useful, when the point being considered isn’t that important to you. Pursue that which tickles your fancy. Find editors, publishers, poets and supporters who understand your work and like it. Nourish these relationships. Listen to them but come to your own conclusions and don’t ask too much of them. They’re busy and asking for feedback on work is really personal and can be awkward. Trust yourself to edit your own work, but work with others when they want to work with you and when it’s useful to both parties.
  • Don’t feel you have to be ‘in the scene’. Don’t feel you have to market yourself in ways that turn you inside out. Don’t feel you need to work with other poets or read all contemporary poets. Don’t feel you need a photo or quotes from other poets or critics on the back of your book. Don’t rush.
  • There’s a time to push and a time to be patient. The trick is figuring out what time it is.
  • Pursue natural connections with other writers. Tell other people when you enjoy their work. Read work that inspires you. Seek to understand the traditions of various writing styles and modes.
  • You might try writing a little each day. You might try not writing for a while. You might try reading something very different from your usual read. You might try going to an art gallery. You might try going to a building site. When you’re stuck, try something different. When something is working for you, keep doing it. Listen to other people’s advice, but only respond to the advice that feels useful for you.
  • Don’t expect a creative writing degree to get you published. Don’t expect personal relationships with editors to get you published.
  • Don’t worry about rejection, it comes with the territory, but find ways to make it less painful. (One poet keeps a special bottle of port called the port of rejection and has a sip every time a rejection comes in. One throws her rejection slips straight into the recycling bin. One keeps hers to poke fun at when she does get published.)
  • Have a look at your poems when they are rejected. Are you really happy with them? If so, send them out again. If you see obvious improvements you can make, make them. Send the poems out again. If they are rejected by a variety of editors, have another look at them – decide whether the problem is with the poems or with the editors.
  • Keep your drafts. Keep your edits in a trash folder – they might come in handy later.
  • Write down your dreams. Remember that your dreams and memories are often more interesting to you than others, but use them as inspiration when you’re stuck. If it’s useful to you, carry a pen and notebook around, keep one by the bed. If it’s useful to you, designate a particular time and place for writing.
  • This may be changing but I still believe that self-publishing for those wishing to be professional writers is a last resort (in most cases). Online publishing and magazines are definitely worth exploring.
  • Explore yourself. Some people like working with material from their own heart, some with material from their own mind, some with triggers from other works of art and writing, some with triggers from science and the news. Some people write in the first person. Some people hate that. Find out what sort of writer you are. Don’t feel that you have to be one thing only, but if you recognise something about yourself that feels distinctive, write it down. Hang on to it. Explore that.

Potentially Useful:

Scottish Poetry Library

Poetry Library Southbank Centre

Poetry Foundation

Kate Tough’s “Next Big Thing”

The marvellous Kate Tough has posted her responses to the “Next Big Thing” survey here.

My answers and links to new writers will be going up shortly, but in the meantime check out her fascinating response. Can’t wait to read the book. Thanks Kate!


New Writing Scotland and Gutter


Delighted to have received copies of New Writing Scotland and Gutter this week You can find a poem or two of mine in them, and so much great work by other writers. Enjoy!