The Drowning House
by John Sibley Williams
Review by Julie Carpenter
I once had a dream that I lived in a huge, malevolent, haunted house. The house was a Victorian. Initially, I was charmed but the house soon became violent, flinging objects at my head, turning stairs into slides. Dream Me knew that if I didn’t come to terms with the spirits in the house, it would kill me, but dream logic demanded that I remain in the house. Ultimately, I took a terrifying trip to the graveyard to speak with the ghosts of two children who died there. They needed to be avenged, and more than that, they needed to be heard.
There are ghosts that you can’t run from, there are ghosts that must be met, regardless of the horror of their tales. In this book, Sibley Williams confronts the ghosts of lives past that still haunt lives present. He sits with the horror without shying away. John Sibley Williams shows us the ways in which we are all possessed.
This collection deals with the sins of a nation, the ghosts that will not be denied. Sins unacknowledged and unexplored but that remain and fester. These poems are disturbing and powerful, expressions of the revenance of violence – the inability to bury it without ever looking it in the face – ghosts that can only be exorcised through repentance -individual, generational, systemic.
Because this book is better experienced than discussed, I will leave you with a few lines from the poem My Heart Is In the Heart of Another Mouth:
Among the burning crosses, churches, refineries at dusk, a bridge
that shouldn’t be there. May we say we see it through the smoke.
Like forgiveness. All this impossible forgiveness.
May the dead believe us when we say it.
Purchase The Drowning House here.
John Sibley Williams is the author of Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Book Award, 2021), The Drowning House (Elixir Press Poetry Award, 2021), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. His book Sky Burial: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming in translated form by the Portuguese press do lado esquerdo. He has also served as editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies, Alive at the Center (Ooligan Press, 2013) and Motionless from the Iron Bridge (barebones books, 2013).
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