The Austin Chronicle

Fall in re: Verse

Raking up some of the season's poetry collections

Reviewed by Greg Beets, September 19, 2014, Arts


by Harold Whit Williams
Texas Review Press, 48pp., $8.95 (paper)

In certain circles, Harold Whit Williams is best known as a poet who happens to play guitar for local pure pop heroes Cotton Mather. With its compelling connection of musical and poetic worlds against the rural backdrop of northwest Alabama, Backmasking seems likely to grow such circles considerably. Part memoir and part meditation, this slim collection captures the richness of pivotal snippets in time through perfectly pitched wordcraft. Coming to terms with nonbelief in the Bible Belt is a recurring theme. Williams' opening "Call to Prayer" artfully casts doubt on the existence of God while readily acknowledging evidence of divinity in the "slow striptease of sunset." You can almost smell the ale on Liam Gallagher's breath when Williams recounts a snippet of backstage music festival dialogue with the Oasis frontman. Life lessons unfurl backward in matter-of-fact tone. A Muscle Shoals, Ala., mall record-store clerk snickers at an ill-advised purchase of the Charlie Daniels Band's Saddle Tramp. A chance after-hours session at Fame Studios fails to channel the ghost of Wilson Pickett. More trenchantly, we glimpse the shame of a Southern white father paddling his son as punishment for sneaking off with a neighbor boy to a KKK rally. Even in chapbook length, Backmasking exudes full-bodied resonance.

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