The central features of a literary epoch are determined by well-known writers who dominate public perception, but its flavor and essence are often revealed by writers somewhat aslant of the main line of sight, writers who eventually may emerge as more representative of an era. Jonathan Williams, poet, photographer, and publisher/director of The Jargon Society, has aligned himself with and devoted his work to a celebration of artists like Gustave Mahler, and writers like Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky, who Ezra Pound welcomed as fellow “strugglers in the desert,” an apt description for Williams as well, except that his exuberant, antic response to the world hardly seems like a struggle in spite of the obvious serious effort supporting his work.
Jubilant Thicket: New & Selected Poems brings together selections from books like An Ear in Bartram's Tree (1969) which demonstrated Williams's skills with familiar forms as well as his inventive use of formations that widened the field of poetry itself, and from his fusion of photographs and lyric observations of his home ground, the Blue Ridge highlands, Blues & Roots/Rue & Bluets: A Garland for the Appalachians (1971), which beautifully conveyed his eye and ear for the resonances of a community that his book revealed as a hidden treasure previously unknown to most Americans. In addition, new poems, notes to older poems, addenda of all sorts and other manifestations of Williams's wit, invention, and wonderfully individualistic take on contemporary and ancient cultures extend the arc of Williams's literary life.
Williams's erudition and extensive education are apparent in his obvious ease with references to and allusions drawn from a very wide range of classical and contemporary sources, employed with a sure sense of their aptness and revelatory power. His predilection for the bawdy is a part of a venerable tradition of unabashed expression, designed to counter pompous pronouncements of the ignorant and arrogant. Jubilant Thicket is a book that is an appropriate tribute to Williams's life's work, immensely satisfying for readers who have relished his writing as it has occurred; a new delight for those who have not yet discovered one of the truest practictioners of an American muse in many of its most engaging forms.