Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jonathan Williams

I was saddened to hear about Jonathan Williams, a friend I began to know in the late Seventies, when I was living in New Haven. Ted Wilentz, a great book man, was then the head of the Yale Co-op, and he gave a party at his place for Jonanthan and Tom Meyer when they visited. I remember, too, that the three princesses of American poetry were guests: Mary de Rachewiltz, daughter of Ezra Pound, Perdita Schaffner, daughter of H.D., and Holly Stevens, daughter of Wallace S. Everyone got along very well, and it was the beginning of a friendship with Jonathan and Tom. I recall visits both to Highlands, NC, where they had their principal residence, and to their cottage in Cumbria, an attraction in itself, quite apart from the Dales setting, which is one of England's beauty spots. To offset possible imputations of grandiosity, Jonathan had set up near the house entrance a cardboard effigy of Colonel Sanders, acquired from some KFC establishment or other, I guess. Besides being the eminent publisher of the Black Mountain School (and Basil Bunting), Jonathan was an aficionado of homegrown Americana, witness his huge collection of American photographers celebrated and otherwise--not to mention publishing ventures like The White Trash Cookbook, which a regular tradebook house picked up and made a success of after Jonathan first brought it out. He had a sense of humor it's too mild to describe as irreverent. One of his favorite snapshots showed a little storefront somewhere in the South with the sign ONAN'S AUTO SHOP. His poems often as not are raucously funny, though I think it's fair to say that Tom is the better poet. A great original: if I close my eyes I see him big as life, over six feet tall, puffing on a panatela. What a delight to have known him. I spoke to Tom, who is bearing up very well, surrounded by friends, no doubt pausing at their big picture window from time to time, perfect for contemplating the misty peaks of Appalachia that Jonathan loved so well.


jatkin02 said...

Thank you for this post, which I stumbled upon because I have a Google Alert set for "Mary de Rachewiltz" whose name appears in your comments.

I live in Asheville, NC, just minutes from the campus of the old Black Mountain College.

I was married on Scaly Mountain outside of Highlands.

Dammit, I wish I had paid closer attention and understood that Jonathan Williams was Right There.

James Atkinson
Asheville, NC

Philip Alvaré said...

Dear James Atkinson:
Did you teach at Earlham College circa 1978?