On Spec

Tyrone Williams


April 2008



Tyrone Williams reveals that every act of communication is a speculation, and that the spectacles we must use to see and assess it—those of our own particular condition and conditioning—are never without qualifying contour and coloration. Williams is a keen observer of the distortions of such lenses, as the titles of the two sections of this collection suggest—first is an “Eshuneutics” (interpretation purportedly infused with an Eshu’s sensibility). But the trickster’s eye can turn to mock even its own powers of analysis, as Williams deftly demonstrates by calling the second section “Pseudo-eshuneutics.” While the issues that Williams confronts come directly from an attempt say what it might mean to understand aspects of the African American condition of diaspora in the United States, these poems also implicate and illuminate the speculative enterprise that we each venture into whenever we attempt to articulate what we see and what we believe about it. At once immediately readable, intensely meditative, and brilliantly braced with philosophical reference, these tours through our human need to speak, and to understand, travel beyond the boundaries that constrain most poetry collections. Poems, plays, plays upon the making of such genre distinctions, are only some of the locations one will visit in these pages.

On Spec excels in cultural poetics transmuted into lyric. Non-identity critique speculates on dialect and dialectics at once, with no end of signifying resourcefulness and no limit of self. And yet the poetry in On Spec is as disciplined as it is brave and free.

Marjorie Welish

Tyrone Williams maps the social space of language with an unflinching ear: tracing the networks of unintended associations trailing behind words from different registers and plotting the vectors at which disparate planes of idiom and vernacular intersect. In this eshuneutics (interpretation from the perspective of the Yoruba trickster, or what Jacques Derrida would identify as the “+ex effect”), Williams distinguishes himself by refusing to look away from the chance connotations of a word, however uncomfortable they may be.

Type: the printed body of poetry; a social position; a class of blood. In the line described by the intersection of these denotations we can read the racial ideology of the text. Sprint: another kind of race; the run of ink obscuring print; the socially coded architecture of a “bluesprint.” Cant: to use the special jargon of a particular class or subject; to adapt with a bias; something oblique; the poetic possibilities inherent in deskilled impossibility (“cant,” connoting the contraction of cannot, ain’t, as they say, in the dictionary). That is: language here is historical, lived, creatively torqued and leveraged — it “makes do.” Williams reminds us that the semantic skin of the word — like any interpellated subject — is always a performance, adapting to the pressures and camouflage of context however hard we work to fix it.

Honestly? Specifically? No need to take this book on spec: the pay(off) is guaranteed.

Craig Dworkin

About the Author

Tyrone Williams’ first book of poetry, titled C.C., was published by Krupskaya in 2002. His poetry chapbooks include Musique Noir (Overhere Press 2006), AAB (Slack Buddha), and Futures, Elections (Dos Madres Press 2004). His poems have been published in magazines, including Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, Caliban, Colorado Review, and Xcp. And his poems have been anthologized in anthologies, including Rainbow Darkness: An Anthology of African American Poetry (Miame University Press 2005) and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (Scribner 2003). He received his Doctorate of English from Wayne State University. He teaches at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan.

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Williams appropriates the European avant-garde to his own purposes. His book is more exploratory and experimental than conclusive, more a record of process than a set product (this is not the say the poems are not sturdy constructions). He puts a microscope to the language we use when we talk about American history, race, sports, art. He employs vocabularies of economics, the law, legislation, music, and many more to peel layers off the scab of bad faith in language.

By slowing down the readers’ cognition through accumulation of fragmented phonemes, both spatially and temporally, we find that “Enjambment disables” intellect in favor of “affective minimals” (114). Or stated differently, by radical use of “Enjambment” and the creation of phonetic “minimals,” the poems “disable” our immediate understanding of them, instead offering us confusion, play, mystery, anxiety and these psychological states’ “affective” responses.

Williams’ poetry manages to do two difficult things, things that are even more difficult when done together: it manages to be both formally and thematically interesting. One of my favorite features of his formal innovations is the use of words or parts of words within parentheses, to create multiple possible and equally valid readings of poems, almost like printing all of Emily Dickinson’s variants directly into her poems at once. It makes the role of the reader in relation to the poem much more (excitingly) active.

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Little x Little

for malcolm…

The subdivision of area codes
follows. Housing evolves, as does
cliché. So too the “human,” “nature”—
everything except the abstract:
sediment for ground: ennobled baboons.
But what of these hypostatized lawns?
This back called my mule?
They it it — confounding Lockes:
union-free Negroes + cost-effective
labor = abbreviated angels
(formerly former). Hence the conundrum
coined blur. Dilemmas exchanged for rakes,
rakes for enigmas. Hope?
Acres squeezed into a steeple.
Despair? The fixed rate of interest
appreciates. Gated ghettoes:
know from know-how?
Went west (boyS to boyZ).
Mature::castrati — as reading is to

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