Tackling systemic issues of racism through a language of powerful imagery, metaphor and dynamic use of the page, Ian Williams’ Word Problems is a game changer to the Canadian poetry scene. Breaking the linear convention of free form-atting, many of Williams’ poems wrap or bend around the page. In “I will never leave thee or forsake thee” the poem is two interlocking circles of text. Like a literary ouroboros, the poem loops in on itself. More than just a pleasant visual, the cyclical nature transforms the lines into a mantra of “I am alone whether I feel I am or not.” Williams uses this tool again with greater complexity in “Where are you,” where three circles interlock with horizontal lines in the stanza, creating poems within the poem and mantras that repeat in your head as the poem flows on, taking the reader with it. Shifting from circular shapes, poems with horizontal and vertical lines, digital messaging boxes, sheet music bars, a fingerprint, and a grid of the word “white” amid a few appearances of the letter “I,” you are kept on your toes as you turn the page, not only to read but to visually navigate the collection.
The prizes and shortlists were not your decision. Let that go. It’s too late to reconsider anything.