John Chambers of Athens, Alabama is a poet, editor, and publisher. His latest collection of poems, Suite for Stephano and Luisa Gatta has received outstanding reviews from poetry critics. Below is one review by writer and poet Richard Garth, originally of Athens, now a resident of Australia.
John Chambers published my first two volumes of poetry, the first in 1998, the second in 2002. Since then, he has become my dear friend, and I am delighted to present these outstanding words said about outstanding poetry. –Bonnie Roberts
Brave Beauty (A Review of Suite for Stefano & Luisa-Gatta by J. William Chambers)
by R. Garth
My first review of J. William Chambers’ Suite for Stefano & Luisa-Gatta (Negative Capability Press) was directly to the author himself. It was short and to the point as E-mails should be:
My second review, this one, is more detailed, though comes to the same conclusion.
Chambers takes you on an incredibly personal journey through his life. Nothing is held back. He shares his anger, his pain, his love, his memories with honest courage. His heart is as open and beautiful as the book itself.
This scintillating poetry is a collection of 34 cantos, the musical moments inside the dissonant cacophony of a small-minded community.
“To Long for ‘the Rich Green Center That Never Rips Apart’” by Bonnie Roberts (another great Alabama poet) is a touching introduction to fill the reader in with the exposition behind the poems, to tune the orchestra for J. William Chambers’ poetry. And tune it well she does. Roberts gives an overture of the poems to come, whets the appetite for the feast ahead.
Canto 1 gobsmacks the reader, especially this one, with the awful words “Booger Town”—what the locals call the poor section of town where the poet lived in his youth. There is hurt in the term, whether using it or hearing it. It is ugly. The stage is set. This poetry has teeth.
Canto 2, 3, 4…you are drawn into Chambers’ music. Social cruelty toward the artist, the intellectual, the different develops as a theme, an unwanted theme the poet must deal with as reality, the pain of being sensitive in Booger Town, echoing “But nothing good ever came / from Booger Town.” You hear the gossiping crows caw.
You taste Chambers’ bitterness as he reveals himself a once rejected preacher: “… I should have braved / attendance that next Sunday, / dressed in white robes stained red, / head anointed with oil, / topped with a thorny crown.” Bitterness, but with a smile.
Canto 7: “Tea time and I become / unavailable / except to myself.” Chambers balances the simplicity of “A budding day in spring, / a cup of green tea…” counterpointed with the complexity of passing seasons, memories and moments of various tea-times. Delicious!
Canto 8 takes you back into the dark world feeding on the artist, but he has the light of a friend to shine through - a beautiful note swelling amid the noise.
Chambers takes you on a stroll with happiness in Memphis in Canto 9. Beale Street, art… the wish “I wanted our years to last forever,” -- a lovely rhythmic swing between the joy of love and the pain of death found throughout the cantos. It is happiness… in spite!
Where can the artist go… that isn’t dark? The evil in the world is unending and restless. You take refuge in, like Chambers, a cat, a friend, music, poetry… all the time aware you cannot take refuge from the pain of loss.
In Canto 29 Chambers holds up his grief in a golden goblet of fire - his poetry. He is Everyman, finding flowers blossoming everywhere in our cruel world. The true beauty he shared with his great friend he shares with the reader through his gentle music: “Your smile dreams a world / of wild grape, / of mossy banks, / of hyacinths, / of lilies, / of seashells, / of seas, / of springs of mystery.”
In Canto 34 he writes wryly, “Merriment is sometimes found / in strange ways in Alabama. Some Alabamians find / a lot of glee in the misery of folks, / queuing up like turkey buzzards / on a country fence to feast / on a juicy adulterer, / or a yummy fornicator, / or a clotted gay, / or a sauced boozer, / or a gutsy gambler. Not the merriment / To prevent bone-drying.”
One is reminded of the dance of Salome. You know where the falling veils are leading. You cannot take your eyes away from the dancing girl. You know it only leads to tragedy, the end of the song, the naked truth, but it is nonetheless engrossingly beautiful, like Chambers’ Suite for Stefano & Luisa-Gatta.
Suite for Stefano & Luisa-Gatta is Chambers’ most honest, heart-breakingly beautiful work to date. It is the music of life and death.
This music is the food of love. Play on, J. William Chambers! Play on!
(Order: $15.00 (includes postage & handling) , Negative Capability Press, 62 Ridgelawn Drive East, Mobile, AL 36608)