Centre College professors are celebrated not only for their skill and enthusiasm for teaching but also for the exceptional work they do within their fields. Lisa Williams, director of the Creative Writing Program and associate professor of English (pictured right), is known for her success both in and out of the classroom. Williams teaches courses in poetry, nature writing and creative non-fiction among others, and has published several highly acclaimed collections of her own poetry, including her third and most recent collection, Gazelle in the House (New Issues Press, 2014).
Intensely focused yet vastly resonating, the poems in this collection reflect virtuosity and candor. Fellow poet Susan Stewart describes Williams’ voice as deeply honest and dynamic.
“Painting with colors at times opaque, at times transparent, moving between shallows, tide-pools, and the abysses of dreams,” writes Stewart, “Williams’ voice is solitary, meditative, intimate—and in the end a means of revelation.”
Williams’ first collection, The Hammered Dulcimer (Utah State University Press, 1998), won the May Swenson Poetry Award, and her second, Woman Reading to the Sea (W.W. Norton, 2008), won the Barnard Women Poets Prize. Like many writers, however, Williams’ style and approach has evolved over the years.
“I like to write about nature, but my ideas about how do that have really changed,” Williams explains. “In my earlier work I looked at larger landscapes, but recently I’ve been more interested in paying attention to things that might be smaller, not a whole landscape, but something within it that maybe I can’t see, but can instead use the microscope of my imagining.”
These smaller subjects still pack a punch with poems, such as “Nucleolus” and “Pelican Eye.” In “The Hummingbird Aviary,” Williams depicts the “bluridescence” of a mother hummingbird feeding her miniscule young:
The mother lights down to feed
the flute-hole of its throat — it’s a smudge,
an inkling, this not-yet-grown
hummingbird — it would smear
if you touched it.
Williams has also endeavored to do more with less from a stylistic standpoint.
“I’m not as concerned with lushness of language in these poems. I wanted to use plainer language that is more subdued and unobtrusive, yet still has a kind of musicality to it.”
Even as Williams gains prominence as a poet, she remains just as dedicated to her students’ writing as her own.
“Looking at student work is a passion for me,” she says. “I love reading good writing and helping to make it as strong as it can be.”
The online poetry journal Memorious has named Gazelle in the House one of its Ten Most Anticipated Poetry Books of 2014. Williams’ collection is available on Amazon.com or by order from select bookstores.
by Caitlan Cole ’14