Saturday, October 4, 2008

I A I interviews Anna-Lynne Williams

Anna-Lynne Williams is a poet, a songwriter, and a singer. She sings in: Trespassers William, Lotte Kestner, Anomie Belle, Tunnel-Tunnel.

I A I: On your blog, entry: Great Modern Works, you listed 25 of your favorite novels. That is hard work. Naming 25 favorite poetry books might be harder. I won't ask you to list 25, but do you have favorite poetry books or a poem or poet?

Anna-Lynne Williams: Yeah I'm not sure that I've even read 25 books of poetry. For me it's always been something I've preferred to make than to consume, which sounds kind of selfish. When I first started writing poetry as a very young teenager, Edgar Allan Poe's poetry was really appealing to me and I sort of ripped it off as I tried to develop my own style. Then, around the time I started writing songs on the guitar (age 16) I got really into e.e. cummings. Most of the poems I've read are his. I have read his complete collected works several times, it's marked with about 50 paper bookmarkers on each of my favorite pages. I think one thing I adopted from him is that sometimes one really powerful sentence or beautiful surprise in a song or poem can carry the whole piece, and the rest of the lines can just be these pretty fragments that set the mood. Or at least that the majority of the work can be obtuse and mysterious so long as you reveal yourself at last in the final couplet ("I thank heaven somebody's crazy enough to give me a daisy...")

My next discovery, around age 17, was Leonard Cohens' "Stranger Music". It's predominantly poetry, but there are also excerpts from his novels and many song lyrics in there as well. That's definitely my favorite collection of writing. He knows how to write from the perspectives of utterly heartbroken and utterly insensitive, equally well. There is a simplicity to the way he puts things, but the subjects he tackles are often heavy. I love how romantic it is. Even as a teenager I could sense that Leonard Cohen had grasped the important themes of being a human being, and had expressed them exactly how I wanted someone to.

Recently, the only poetry book that I've been introduced to that I've really loved is David Berman's "Actual Air." Those poems are infectious. Once again, it's a musician-turned-poet so maybe I'm cheating a bit...Rainer Maria Rilke I have always liked as well.
I think that pretty much sums up all the poetry that's really struck me.

I A I : Some poems can be turned into songs and some song lyrics can be read as poetry. If you could do a "cover" of a poem and set it to music, what poem would it be?

Williams: That's hard for me to imagine... I have difficulty using other people's words, I've not really had success with that. My voice sounds different if I didn't write the song. But Peppermill Records is putting together a compilation of Shel Silverstein poems translated into songs by different artists, and I've chosen "Hug-o-war" to record. That one seemed like a good pick because it's innately sweet and emotional.

I A I: And what singer/songwriters' lyrics do you think could be made into publishable poems? For example, to me, Sade's song "Clean Heart," could be a poem:

"He loved his brother and his sister
Luke and Tony called him Mister
They made him feel much more
Like a man

He loved his daddy though he
never told him And how he loved his mama
He loved
He loved her
like an Italian

Little Janet said you look so fine...
Something in his smile
Made them feel like strangers
And then he straightened his belt
With a lover's touch
And he said I'm gonna bring home
The things that are out of your clutch

Seemed like the hottest night in summer
A heat that makes you feel like dying

Williams: Lisa Germano's lyrics read really well. I think she's amazing. She somehow makes so much beauty out of these really awful feelings. And there's always some scathing line hiding in there somewhere that would make for a memorable poem.

And I think the lyrics that Jeff Tweedy writes for Wilco are out of this world. The album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in particular. ("All my lies are always wishes. I know I would die if I could come back new.")Which is strange because he published a book of poetry and I wasn't that moved by it, but I'm really blown away by his song lyrics. It might be that poetry comes off as more pretentious to me, in general, which is why a lot of my favorite "poets" are actually musicians. It's like songwriters don't TRY in the same way, which happens to be more to my liking. And musicians also have to put things more simply because you're supposed to comprehend it without getting to read it on a page.

IAI: When you write poetry, do you submit it to literary magazines or journals or do you keep them for yourself? Do you turn them into songs?

Williams: Most of what I've written has been made available in some way. I released a book called "Split Infinitive" about 6 years ago that had a good percentage of what I'd written up to that point. I had planned to do the same thing a few years later with what I wrote after that publication, but it's a pretty expensive process to set up a book. Instead, I've posted several of my poems on my MySpace music page, and a couple of them on my personal blog. I did have one short story published on a literary website (Humdinger) and an excerpt from my journal on another site (Identity Theory), but not any of my poems. I'd like to have more of my pieces pop up in different places, but it seems people respond to my music a lot more than the strictly written works. And lately, I've been getting into more journalistic writing.

I have never turned a poem into a song, though sometimes I'll borrow a line from one of my poems. There's a line in the song "What Could I Say" that says "Now I'm so afraid to push you from my mind, like the fear of forgetting what light is like when you close your eyes." That was stolen from an older poem, though I changed it a little to make it fit with the meter of the song.

I A I: What would the world be like without poets?

Williams: My instinctive response is to say that the world would be just the same, I'm not sure that it really needs poetry. But I think that POETS really need poetry as an outlet. Maybe I only think that because it feels like a disappearing medium, but at the same time every teenager who ever felt anything big or beautiful has tried to write a poem. I can't imagine what I would've done without it all through high school and college, but the world would've been just fine with or without what I wrote... I wonder if I'm the only person that thinks that, that poetry is far more for the person writing it than the person reading it.
You can find Anna-Lynne Williams' poems and song lyrics at

To find out more about Anna-Lynne Williams go to: or


Keros said...

great interview! Love her music

paul siegell said...

very cool. love the perspective!

Linda said...

Most readers of your poetry would argue that they are not better off for having read your beautiful words. You don't give your gift enough credit ....................