Review: Searching for Capybaras in the Work of Marc Chagall by Simon Williams


Poet Simon Williams is hardly a new voice. As editor of The Broadsheet and a Devon poet probably best known for his collection He-She (Itinerant Press, 2012), Williams’ verse has been around for four decades. His latest pamphlet (chapbook to our American readers) produces an absorbing little collection of 'conversations' between a literary artist and a visual one, anchored on a discourse between the poet and a fictionalized Marc Chagall, a Russian Jewish artist famed for such paintings as La Mariée. These pictures make an appearance in ekphrastic poetry on Chagall's art that punctuates William's verse in uniquely funny and insightful ways.

The poetry is excellent. Williams eschews the awful post-modernist navel gazing which haunts so much of contemporary free verse at present, and instead focuses on the path of the artist. His poems, while free, are kept within a 14 line limit, the genius of which is that the strict number functions as the boundary of a canvas size a visual artist might use.

The poet includes a tongue-in-cheek apology at the start that they are 'not sonnets.' Really? One sees here many of the techniques employed by sonneteers, including situations or conundrum posed in the first four lines, with a volta-like twist. These borrowed classical techniques lend solid structure to the poetry. What is most 'sonnet like' about these verses is the memorable concluding couplets, often with profound punchlines. Williams writes perhaps the most insightful thing ever written about writers in love versus visual artists in love: writers take their time to fall in love over the exchange of words, but 'love is faster with a brush.'

Searching for Capybaras is an Indigo Dreams pamphlet and therefore has the gentle shades of an undisturbed Middle England about it. Those looking for grit and grime in their poetry need to look elsewhere. However, there is most certainly room in the literary world for the gentle, the humorous, and good clean fun presented here, and the poetry is uplifting without being saccharine, fake, or resorting to pastiche. A joy to read.

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