In the Early Morning Calling
by L.B. Williams
16 poems/27 pages/$14.99
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
For purchase: www.finishinglinepress.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
The poet Rita Dove has written, “All I ever wanted to do was write the best poem that I could write—a poem that was true and honest and the very best poem I could write, artistically and linguistically.” As I immersed myself in Lisa Williams’ poetry, Dove’s quotation came to mind. Clearly, Ms. Williams has invested her heart and soul in each poem, writing with artistic skill that blends the inner and outer worlds in a completely satisfying way.
An epigraph from Walt Whitman opens the collection,
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
Like Whitman, Williams is a voice that will be heard, and like Whitman, she feels an affinity with the natural world. Her poetry reflects the Nichiren Shoshu tradition of Buddhism. This tradition emphasizes the practitioner’s own inner transformation and world peace based on the diversity and dignity of all people. However, one need not “be” a Buddhist to enjoy these fine poems.
In the opening poem, Where Do They Go? Williams explores the sources of inner longing,
What if we hear the sound of a cuckoo from Kyoto
and long for a city where we already are?
It’s a melody on a radio,
something familiar but forgotten
that makes me miss what I already know is gone.
In the afternoon a butterfly
mingles with the screen outside my room
and I wonder
what is a wind-swept spirit.
In my reading, this poem sets a tone for the entire collection. Throughout the volume the poet uses form to signal appropriate reflective pauses. In this poem three couplets interlock with single lines having the effect of slowing the reader down, like a speed bump in the road. She wants us to “hear” the “cuckoo from Kyoto” and the “melody on a radio.” Moreover, Williams’ poetry demands observation: a butterfly mingles with the screen outside her room. Hence, her wonderment about the wind-swept spirit.
Ms. Williams writes a hopeful poetry, as in this excerpt from Winter Always Turns to Spring,
My father buried in a black coffin
The undertakers ask us if we want to view the body,
to make sure he’s in the right box,
but we decline,
not wanting to see the ashen face,
legs and arms without breath,
I still believe he may be close. (Italics mine)
Summer Melody sings with wonderful visuals, action and color,
Even now when I write it’s no disaster,
I think of you in winter dreams
on moonless nights
when crabs crawl by flashlight
on a windless dune
and children dance on logs
far past midnight.
I want to lose this angelic self,
long for some wind-tortured place,
riding on mares
The collection’s title poem is a single poem consisting of eight separate but interlocking poems. I read the previous ten poems as a gradual crescendo that prepares the way for the composition’s major sustained movement. The symphony draws down gently in adagio fashion with The End of Summer, From Securing the Peace of the Land, and An Image of Myself I See Sometimes Now.
Returning to the title poem, Ms. Williams opens her soul through her faith-tradition’s practice of the Chant. She chants in the morning as sound meets light. She chants on a warm spring morning in New York City, and as she enjoys the cherry blossoms and runners in Central Park. Throughout the eight-part compendium of poems, the poet sustains the work showing (not telling) life-lessons through a poetic premise that
Nothing can exist independently
or arise of its own accord.
For me, the last seven lines of section VIII, image the depths of the poet’s heart for all things living and for the land she loves,
A cello from my childhood
scratches against window floors,
a bow in my hand as I once bent
into sound and desire,
as I chant now on this morning
in April for the peace of our earth,
the peace of this land.
Jane Hirschfield has written, “poetry’s work is the clarification and magnification of being.” In the Early Morning Calling, is a gift to be savored as an important contribution to that most worthy end.