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A few years ago, the Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp released two paired albums. One was Junior, a bouncy light-hearted romp through party pop. The other was Senior, a more introverted and complex record. Interesting to hear, but ultimately less hooky. Fans of the duo vow to love both albums equally, but secretly they all prefer Junior. The immediate fun atmosphere is exactly what the ear needs to deliver a happiness boost to the system.
Chrissy Williams, maybe without meaning to, has written her own pair much in the style of Junior and Senior. The first book, The Jam Trap (her last book before Flying into the Bear, which came out last year through Soaring Penguin Press) is playful and humorous, filled with stories in the style of prose poems that burst with a sort of sentimental wit. Flying into the Bear (published by Happenstance) is more mature both is style and in content. Much like the aforementioned Scandinavian songsmiths, Williams has shown, eloquently and comprehensively, two completely different sides to her creative endeavours. Though that is perhaps where the similarity ends. Williams will not have to suffer for turning to a more introspective mode of writing. Flying into the Bear is charged with an emotional gravity that far surpasses that of The Jam Trap, making it a more engaging and even more entertaining read.
The opening poem, The Bear of the Artist, serves as both an introduction to the collection for those fresh to Williams’ work, gently pushing a thoughtful emotiveness, and as a clear and clever segue linking this book and the last. It feels effortless and flows like a story told by a friend. It is this ease of delivery that Williams showed herself to be so proficient in with The Jam Trap, but instead of using it to lead up to a narrative punchline, it allows the content to unfurl carefully and draw the reader into the idea of the human as a vessel for communication that filters through the collection.
I’ll stop referring back to The Jam Trap now… after this. While The Jam Trap is made up of prose poems in the form of first person stories, they still feel like they are told by someone else. The gregarious narrators gather you close to recount their tales, but there are a few of them. Flying into the Bear feels from the outset like a personal confession. Heartfelt and patiently considered.
Untethered from writing strictly narrative work, Williams has taken the opportunity to explore a more impressionistic style of writing. The poem Green Lake pulls the reader through a flurry of fast-paced, darting lines to try and glimpse a swimming fish. The fish, and the reader too, gain unexpected connections on the journey, touching on life, time by way of invisible pathways. Bringing the experience up even further (and perhaps making this one of my favourite poems in the collection) Williams leaves a set of instructions for extended reading of the poem consisting of a short video of Brian Cox explaining the Pauli Exclusion Principle and why everything is connected (aha!) and a scene of underwater landscapes soundtracked by a song by Sigur Ros (another band from inside the arctic circle, I guess everything really is connected). This addition of another medium might seem like a gimmick to some, but (along with the love poem to a video game Robot Unicorn Attack) what it shows is that Williams is not afraid to climb out of the shadow of stuffy and traditionalist poets, and write something that is both thoughtfully creative and culturally contemporary.
I’d like to take this moment to note that poetical duties are going to be split amongst the team from here on as we have found ourselves with a new poetry editor! More on that soon.