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'Admission' and 'It's Not You, It's Me: The Poetry of Break-Up': Two terrific books from Jerry Williams

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As we arrive at the final week of National Poetry Month, I recommend that you immediately grab a copy of Jerry Williams’ Admission, as funny and tough and thrilling a collection of poems as I’ve read in some time. In this volume, Williams specializes in poems that dare you to believe they’re autobiographical or confessional, and which can quickly become both intricate and artfully exaggerated. The opening poem, “Unadorned,” is a vehement list of the things he’s done “for you,” whoever “you” is. Here’s a chunk of it:

I let a dog in the park lick my face for you.

I pretended not to know the murder rate in Denmark for you.

I’ve tried to stay ugly for you […]

I worked in a cardboard box factory for you.

I gave up skin for you.

Whenever love metastasized, I ran over it with my lawnmower for you.

I wrote “Stairway to Heaven” for you.

I did the whole Reverend Dimmesdale thing for you…

Williams writes poems about HBO and The Tonight Show; he has a poem called “Imaginary Family Vacation” that made me wince and wonder whether Williams had rooted around in the back of my skull for memories.

Williams is also the editor of a fine new anthology, It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Poetry of Break-Up. It’s a collection featuring terrific poets such as Mark Halliday, Tony Hoagland, and Ai (a fine poet who died just last month). It’s Not You, It’s Me is divided into three themed sections “One Foot Out The Door,” “In The Middle Of The Storm,” and “The Aftermath.” This may be an anthology for anyone who’s been broken-hearted, but it’s not an anthology for anyone who’s faint-hearted: Treacly, romantic, winsome little poems are entirely absent Williams’ from conception of the messiness of breaking up with someone.

In his superb introduction, Williams says bluntly, “I have endured four major break-ups in my life. Each one nearly killed me.”

You think he’s kidding… and then he goes on to describe each one. Williams is as good a prose writer as he is a poet. Get hold of this guy’s stuff and read it.