Contributor Spotlight: John Sibley Williams

“Sour Milk Sky,” “Seismic,” and “In the New World” by John Sibley Williams appeared in Issue 19 and can be read here.

We’d all love to hear a little more about “New World.”

As any writer knows, inspiration for a poem often strikes at the most unexpected times. Even stranger and more brilliant are the relationships we forge between direct experience and creative concept. I wrote “In the New World” immediately upon waking one morning in a motel room, away from my family for the night, looking out over a small coastal city decked in cranes and the skeletons of soon-to-be-buildings. This fairly mundane image reminded me of my city of Portland, where historic homes and buildings are regularly being torn down to reconstruct a taller city to fit the influx of wealthy newcomers. Constructing cities atop existing cities isn’t anything new, but that morning something about it all hurt.

What was the most difficult part of writing this poem?

The part I struggled with most while writing and revising “In the New World”—a common struggle for me while writing poems that explore culture, politics, or history—was ensuring my perspective on its theme rang clear without sounding didactic. So many poems tend toward message-making, which, as a reader, pulls me out of the poem’s world. It’s a delicate balance, and one I hope I successfully navigated here.

Recommend a book for us published within the last decade.

Although it’s impossible to name just one (or just 100), I’ll go with No Shape Bends the River So Long by Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni. These dually written, long-lined poems flow majestically across each  page with astounding beauty and confidence.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?

If it could be any author, probably Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s a bit of a hero of mine. His ability to make scientific and philosophical truths accessible to people of all ages inspires me, as does his whit, charm, and the way in which he treats even the most hard-headed science skeptic with respect. As for living poets, I’d probably say Carl Phillips, whose unique poetic structures, inimitable voice, and fusion of deeply personal with universal truths constantly impresses me.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I’m utterly elated and humbled to say my two most recent projects have been picked up and are slated for publication in 2019. As One Fire Consumes Another won the Orison Poetry Prize and Skin Memory won the Backwaters Poetry Prize. At the moment I’m simply writing and writing without knowing if or how these new poems will eventually be compiled.

Our thanks to John for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read John’s poems “Sour Milk Sky,” “Seismic,” and “In the New World” here:


John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize) and Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize). An eleven-time Pushcart nominee and winner of various awards, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review. Publications include: Yale Review, Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, Massachusetts Review, and Third Coast.