Bookish Monkey

Didn’t he ramble? In Memoriam Jonathan Williams, 1929 – 2008


photo: Farm machinery on the disused railway line between Askrigg and Aysgarth, February 2008, taken by yours truly

The American poet and publisher Jonathan Williams, who knew, among other places, Wensleydale, where I have just been, died on Sunday last. in a characteristically-titled essay “Some Speak of a/ Return to Nature/ I Wonder Where They/ Could Have Been” he writes of the photographer Bill Brandt’s assertion that the ancient track between Lewes and Newhaven is the most beautiful road in the world:

I would want to ask Bill Brandt if he’s walked sections of the Lyke Wake Walk on the Cleveland Hills during the heather season, or the green tracks around Upper Wharfedale: the one from Cray over to Stalling Busk in Wensleydale. Beauty is in the feet of the beholder.

Others may mourn him more eloquently than I – Pierre Joris, Mark Scroggins, Ron Silliman, John Latta – via wood s lot, ever the grapevine for these things, from whom I had the news. Ruminations from the distant hills, a blog from the Appalachians, has a handy summation of Williams’ career and significance, and points out that Jargon Press, started while he was still a student, was named “not only for its meaning of personal idiom, but after the French spring pear, “jargonelle” and the French “jargon,” meaning the twittering of birds”. As my other web-cognomen, ‘ramage’, also means the twittering of birds, I’d like to hope for some kinship there. At any rate, I’ll be reading tonight in his books An Ear in Bartram’s Tree, The Magpie’s Bagpipe, and Jubilant Thicket. God rest the old curmudgeon, but not too much – we could do with his spirit still being up and around, somewhere. Here’s a taste, in memoriam one of his own pantheon, Thomas Bewick:

Mr. Bewick, pronounced BUICK,
rests in the churchyard at Ovingham,
pronounced AH-VIN-JUM,
a part of the Tyne Valley
now occupied by Horsey
People who have hardly ever heard

of him