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Contributed By:

Emily Harris

Northwest Passages: Crystal Williams

OPB | March 4, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:17 p.m.

Reed College

Here is one response to Crystal Williams‘ work:

She limns the heart of what moves her speakers and subjects to signify and sass as they are prone to do and immerses readers in moments that words rarely fully render. Williams not only makes these spaces real but also leaves her readers pondering what can be mined from their own past and present lives, homes, loves and losses.

That’s from poet L. Lamar Wilson’s recent review of Williams’ 2009 book, Troubled Tongues, which won the Long Madgett Poetry Award and was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award. She now teaches at Reed College in Portland, though she’s on sabbatical this year.

Her sabbatical ramble has taken Williams several places, including back to Detroit, her hometown, one touchstone in her American experience, and the focus of her upcoming book. (Check out her blog post from the “ghetto Starbucks” in Detroit on the scene there and the arts scene in Portland. And the view from her Detroit window on the world.) Williams was adopted as a baby by a black father who played jazz piano when he wasn’t working at the Ford foundry, and a white mother, a school psychologist thirty years younger than her husband. Although raised in Detroit, Williams spent two years with her mom in Madrid, and many summers in Mexico.

Williams says her father’s music and an uncle’s poetry led her to the craft. She was drawn to Portland because of the opportunity to teach at Reed. One poem she wrote here is From the Hospital, Hood. It’s from her second collection, Lunatic. Here is an excerpt:

My mother is dying & in the distance

the mountain hulks along the ridge, white, too big

for description. I stand upon an opposing hill.

Face to face, this mountain & I. Between us, the city

flattened. Something in me wants to count the houses,

the small blips of light that make pretty patterns,

divide that number by another unknown quantity,

figure how many humans down there live,

in near darkness, as orphans. Solace, then. People

continue. This is a new tribe to which I will belong

& I wonder if I will recognize them.

Post your thoughts and questions to help shape the conversation with Crystal Williams.

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