has a new look

Go to the new

 D. Herrle reviews Jill Williams' A Weakness For Men



© 2003 Jill Williams

published by Woodley & Watts

read what folks are saying about Jill



"If you absolutely detest formal poetry, I'd advise you not to read this book," Jill warns in her introduction.  This sentence alone exemplifies Jill Williams' audacious manner: a manner that runs throughout A Weakness For Men.  I happen to quite dislike formal poetry, although I don't detest it.  But Williams' clever, playful, and variable poetry collection broke through my prejudice and strongly emerged as a worthy poetic work, overall.


Williams displays a nimbleness of different styles, from sonnet to rondeau to ballade to kyrielle to light verse.  Two pieces are in paradelle form, combined of paradox and villanelle styles -- originated by poet Billy Collins.  Benignly upsetting and contorted, yet impressive: two repeated lines followed by two lines that must contain all the words from the first two repeated lines -- and the last stanza in the poem contains all the words previously used by all the lines.  (Whew.)



I was 13 and, boy oh boy, did I have a crush.

I was 13 and, boy oh boy, did I have a crush.

On the lifeguard.  What?  I dunno his name.

On the lifeguard.  What?  I dunno his name.

Boy, did I -- His name?  #13 Lifeguard.

What a crush on the boy!  And I was, oh, I dunno --

(from "Groton, Connecticut: 1956")


Achieving gracefully coherent poems under strict structural rules is not an easy venture.  Williams, however, manages to consistently preserve point and genuine voice, rather than the form itself outweighing content.  Hence the pieces vary: some flippant ("I've all the money I need./Too bad it threatens your maleness."), some severely honest ("Attention, men!  Please listen, if I may./You must remove all mom-lust from your head."), some comedic ("Let others stuff the pain away/With brandied four-star peach flambe."), and some particularly museful (such as personally addressing a statue of Vancouver's once-famous track star, Harry Winston Jerome, as if it is alive).


A WEAKNESS FOR MEN is indeed a compelling title.  And the back cover blurb asks, "Why have relationships at all if they can't be turned to creative advantage?"  Between the title and that question, Jill Williams leads the reader on a movement to Vancouver, Pender Island, Montreal, Nova Scotia, and back to Vancouver.  The book's title may slightly deceive.  Surely, Jill takes us on a limited tour of notably failed relationships with men through her life, but her mistakes seem less of a weakness and more of a naivete (at least at first), as well as a misdirected passion for "one day finding Prince Valiant".


The exploits with different men aren't commonplace by any means.  After involvement with a man who had "spent the majority of his life behind bars:, Jill marries an allegedly recovered cocaine abuser Canadian, named Art, with the sole purpose of becoming a Landed Immigrant - money exchange, vow of no sex, feigned appearances, and all.  Soon Art desires more from the narrator, but she resists sex.  Another poem, set years later and with another man, reveals Art has died of AIDS.  The piece ends:  

I catch my breath and eye the stars above.

We'd come damn close but never did make love.


About mid-way through the book we meet Laird: Jill's student-turned-lover-then-husband-then-ex-husband.  Laird seems a special case, a resonant memory.  We are led through the marriage cycle through five pieces: "Beginnings", "Middles", "Quintet", "Endings", and "Deciding Factor".  Two other poems deal with looking back in the aftermath: "My Love for You Is Now A Cloudless Sky" and "I Wish I'd Been A Virgin".


The romance's start is compared to an opening sentence meant to hook the reader.  Then "boredom in a marriage" is compared to "mid-story lag".  Finally, in "Ending", we are told: "So when your words start to wander,/Stick close to the point and don't stray./Love's not about what lies yonder./It's making the best of today."


From Vancouver, the narrator moves to Pender Island.  Here is an interlude of healing and manless appreciation.  But in the following section, Jill is prepared to seek love again.  And she honestly admits: "It gets harder and harder on friends when they see how desperately finding a mate matters."  She is swept into another romance, only to later find the man is gay.  Her propensity for bad aim continues.  "I'll conquer this life," she writes, "Independent.  Alone and without any men."


Weakness is certainly an honest confession of mistake and desire, less of weakness and more of life's unpredictable pitches.  Jill asks, for instance: "Why, tell me why, must the men I don't love/Gather around me like frogs in a pond?/Crowding and croaking their hopes of a bond..."  Then she is smitten by Peter, sharing wonderful, Platonic time together.  But to Peter she is just a friend.  So it goes.


Though the opening pieces about her family seemed out of place and more apt for another collection, A Weakness For Men is a unique and worthy experience, a book that suspended my dislike for formalism for a pleasing spell.


Perhaps the book's resolution is best conveyed by the final poem, "Another Time, Another Tennis Court":  

I love myself enough today.

Despite those times I miss the ball.

I like the offbeat things I say.

The grunt before I cry "Bad call!"


Despite those times I miss the ball,

Despite my ragged shirt and shoes,

The grunt before I cry "Bad all!"

I'm fun.  I'm free.  I get to choose


My ragged shirt and running shoes

And who will keep me volleying.

I'm fun.  I'm free.  I get to choose

What's worth my gosh and gollying.


And who will keep me volleying.

I'm not as needy as before.

What's worth my gosh and gollying?

Good friends.  They matter now, much more.


My swing goes wide.  "Ya wanna bowl?"

I like the offbeat things I say.

Don't need a man to make me whole.

I love myself enough today.


Jill Williams has written a Broadway musical (Rainbow Jones) and wrote a previous collection of poetry called The Nature Sonnets, published by Gival Press 2001. To order books call Words at 1-800-593-9673.


(available at, as well)


Jill's website:


[back to top]  [home]

© 2003 SubtleTea Productions   All Rights Reserved