Contributor Spotlight: John Sibley Williams

Headshot: John Sibley Williams

John Sibley Williams’ poem Untitled {homescape} is featured in Issue 77 of the Bellingham Review

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

Taken from a brief series of “Untitled” poems that explores similar themes, “{homescape}” comes from a place of shadowed nostalgia, where perceiving a land that should be utterly familiar instead feels strange. Have things actually changed or was it just the naivety of youth that made us remember home in glorious Technicolor? Are we closer to ruin or have we always been precariously balancing on its lip? Can we really say we’ve lost something if we’re the ones who drove it away? These are the questions I hoped to explore through the semi-autobiographical lens of first person narrative.

Tell us about your writing life.

Though each poem possesses its own unique demands, themes, and structures, my work is always heavily rooted in human attachments and disconnects: to others, to self-perception, to culture and politics, to nature, to language, to the past and future, to hurt and healing. I’m interested in the drama and tragedy of the human experience, the ways we define ourselves and seek meanings in our lives. The topics through which I explore these themes are greatly varied and derive from a broad range of passions, and the structures I employ are similarly varied, from narrative to experimental to prose poems, according to which structure best conveys the poem’s specific goals. In the end, I simply hope to be as authentic as I can be.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Craft can be learned but an authentic voice is what makes a piece of writing resonate and endure.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writers?

I have no idea how to answer this…but a few of my favorite contemporary poets are Carl Phillips, Ocean Vuong, Jamaal May, TJ Jarrett, William Brewer, and so many others. I’m also particularly enamored by poets who explore cultural experiences through non-narrative lenses.

What are you reading right now?

In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae

What project(s) are you working on now, or 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.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

A few utterly random facts:
I have twin toddlers.
I love my Boston Terrier more than most human beings.
I’m a horror movie buff.
I’m 6’7″. Seriously. I have a beanstalk and everything.

Where can our readers connect with you online?


JOHN SIBLEY WILLIAMS is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. An eleven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, The 46er Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Featured Image: “Maquette Schuurmann House 3D” by wim hoppenbrouwers