There is a legend where a wise elder is telling a novice that he lives with two wolves battling inside him. One wolf is good and the other is evil. The novice inquires as to which wolf will win the battle. The wise old man tells him that the wolf that will win is the one which he feeds. With the title of this collection, STARVE THE WOLF, poet Clifford Williams flips this–preferring instead to starve one wolf rather than feed the other. In a note on the book’s cover Williams refers to these poems as being about “battling loneliness and maladaptive behavior with magic and cleansing”. There are mentions of runes, oblique hints at mysticism but many of the poems seem bleak. Heavy even. Lines hum with tension: “Grieve a mother’s nest”, “Put a hex on a whale”, “The rat traps are calling me”. His battles seem yet to be won. The poems within this collection are enigmatic and sparse. There are very few adjectives, and when they do arrive, and they are almost always colors, they surprise. A sudden brightness flares through simple lines. “Green on his back”, “a yellow door”, “blue water.” It is very effective. The predominant color though is black. Lots of blackness. Literally and metaphorically. If there are flowers they seem to be heading for a grave. The only happy character would appear to be the ghost that materializes in the final line of the closing work.
Williams’ writes that this collection, “explores the years as a young adult and his changing philosophies around love and belonging”. There is certainly some nostalgia, frequent references seemingly to schooldays, or parents, or early relationships. There is confusion and insecurity as in the poem “304 431” which runs, “You and me/ See differently/ Stupid questions/ Wrong answers.” Elsewhere, in the poem “Lessons Lady Bug”, more confusion, more communication breakdowns, “I can sing in English/ And you wouldn’t understand/ I can spell it out for you/ And you wouldn’t understand.” This is not a collection that can be devoured at pace–rather the words need to be allowed time to deliver their meaning(s).
Despite its seeming simplicity, STARVE THE WOLF by Clifford Williams is full of challenging poems that take time to come fully into focus. They are personal, intimate reflections that very slowly reveal their craft and the singular thoughts of their author.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader