I am not a heroine who plows ahead through scheduled exercises, weight machines and pool exercises just so I won't walk worse tomorrow. I cough, drool and tremble, speak too softly and have almost reinvented myself to become someone I'm desperately trying to camouflage. I want you to know me as I once was and not as I probably am now. "Probably," because I'm not sure myself what the new and unimproved me is and/or has become. Moreover, I will not allow you to know the many "me's." Many, because I wear different disguises to fool you, but mainly to fool me. My disguises are my stories, my poems, my essays or any literary form that will suit my subject of expression.
"Want to know the truth?" Ellen Williams writes in the first sentence of her essay "Masquerade," "I really don't want to write about the disease I have." It should be no surprise, then, that Williams who was diagnosed with Parkinson's over seven years ago, does not focus on disability in her first collection of writing Let's Go Around Again.
Let's Go Around Again is segmented into three parts, based upon the genre of writing included in that section. Those familiar with Wordgathering know that by essay, Williams does not mean an arid discussion of academic concepts. Hers are upbeat expressions of personal experience peppered with humor, word play, and sometimes a healthy dash of silliness. The opening essay, "A Matter of Taste" is a perfect example. In this piece Williams describes how as the daughter of an immigrant mother and raised in a Danish community in upstate New York, she had a rude awakening in moving to Tennessee and encountering "biskits and gravy." The final outcome? In a sort of mini-Hegelian dialectic, she becomes a fan of Southern cooking without really relinquishing her inherited tastes. Williams observes, "I've discovered that I can embrace strange ways, strange foods and strange people, as my parents and immigrants before them did, and not feel threatened."
The second part of Williams' verbal triptych is "Verses". This is a somewhat unfortunate title since in its modern sense, "verse" tends to connote rhymed lines that either do not aspire to or else fall short of poetry, as in the doggerel of Joyce Kilmer or Helen Steiner Rice, and this is not true of Williams work. On the other hand, the title is somewhat suggestive of the landscape of Williams' poetry. The poems have the Keatsian feel of lush autumns and the changes of the seasons, of a world in which time has been suspended and into which Pound, Eliot and even Frost have not yet been born. While maintaining the language and techniques of the Romantics, Williams, thankfully, eschews rhyme for free verse. Her poetry also carries with it that Wordsworthian sense that in some ways achieving adulthood is a loss of innocence. In the first stanza of "Little Kids' Snow" she writes:
Kids' snow is different than grown-up snow
Occasionally, too, while retaining a language of bygone times, Williams does come up with unexpected images:
Like a restless inept suitor
There are certainly some editors who would tell Williams, yes this is nice, but check the calendar; it's the twenty-first century. At the same time, it is also true that we do not live only in the present. Our lives encompass an entire expanse of times whose emotional center is not at its forward tip. For readers whose lives span greater distances, Williams' poetry may resonate.
The final section of Let's Go Around Again is somewhat misleadingly called "Short Stories." With one exception, these are not fictional pieces with problem-driven plots, as one might suppose. They are, rather, autobiographical narratives centered around particular events or people in the narrator's life and betray the actual reason for the original publication of the book - to share with family and friends. From a literary standpoint, the single best piece in this section is "The Hat" which is essentially a prose poem, which displays Williams' facility with lyrical language.
The genesis of Let's Go Around Again brings up considerations of the area of self-publishing. As the author herself recounts, the work came into existence as a result of family and friends who continually wanted to read her work. She felt the easiest way to do this was simply to gather everything under one cover. Finding a willing printer, Williams published her collection under her own label, Cattail Press. The entire process took her about two years.
One of the downsides of self-publishing, of course, is that it makes it difficult to reach the thousands of readers that many writers dream of. As Williams notes, "It's not something you do to pay the rent." Nevertheless, if what a writer wants for her book is readers, then a modest amount is better than none at all. Williams began with a small first run, but did some local legwork and found herself at book signings and fairs. Now she is already into a second printing. Let's Go Around Again is not likely to make the New York Times best sellers list, but many will find it enjoyable, low-stress reading with selections ranging from the flippant "I Shot the Radio in the Women's Locker Room" to the more sober revelations of Parkinson's in "Masquerade." The book is available from Cattail Press or Amazon.com.