Q&A with Poetry Contributor John Sibley Williams

John Sibley Williams is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Disinheritance. A nine-time Pushcart nominee and winner of various awards, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review. Publications include: Yale Review, Atlanta Review, Prairie SchoonerMidwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Massachusetts Review, Columbia, Third Coast, and Poetry Northwest.

His poems "Everything Must Go" and "There is No Such Thing as Trespass" will appear in the Winter 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 14, for special savings and discounts.


Both of the poems forthcoming in Carve have a column-like prose structure; how and why did you decide on this form?

I wanted to combine the classic prose poem feel with the tightness of short lines, with their tense breaks, constant forward movement, and often harsh staccato beats. I also love what it looks like on the page: thin strands of text intruding on so much white space.

You use anaphora beautifully in “There is No Such Thing as Trespass.” Do you use this literary device often in your work?

Thanks so much for saying so. I try to use it sparingly, as such repetition creates a risky insistency. Only certain poems can really wear it right. It does generate a strong, consistent flow, and a sense of intimacy, but if used too often it would no longer carry the same weight. I also try to have the repeated phrases, in this case “our” and “same”, mean something slightly different as the poem progresses. “Our dead. Our grief.” implies direct ownership, while “& this hurt: still ours.” suggests a weakening of our ownership, a surprise that it hasn’t left us yet.

What are some of your other favorite tools in poetry?

I’m not sure if I have favorite tools. Each poem makes its own demands. Structurally, I enjoy writing prose and experimental poems, short and long lined-poems, narratively intimate and rather abstract and everything in between. But one consistent element is sound; I love the sound of words rubbing up against each other. Sometimes this takes the form of assonance or consonance, sometimes anaphora or alliteration, but I read poems aloud over and over while composing them so that my ear plays a significant role.

Do you feel like your work as an editor and agent influence your writing? 

I don’t feel these roles influence my writing per se, but they do impact how I order poems within a collection. My editing and agenting hats are rather outward-facing, reminding me that there’s a potential audience out there who need to make sense of and hopefully bond with the material. I try very hard not to allow audience expectation to impact my writing process, which could corrupt the work at its root by writing to others. But I do think quite a bit about future readers when weaving poems together into a larger body.