You Know Who You Are
If you’re asking who is Ian Williams, I can tell you [...] that his work is inventive and clever. I can tell you that his obsession, as his title suggests, is, indeed, “you.”
What I love about You Know Who You Are is everything. I love the bold, slippery slide between the pronouns, the in-your-face I know, and I am not telling whoI he you we are. I love the off-kilter beat, the chop of word, stanza, and space that keeps the reader both uneasy and surprised. I love that in the middle of the collection is a section called “Emergency Codes” that tells the story in persona poems of Dre, who grows up poor, black, and without hope in an unnamed ghetto and who somehow in the end gives us hope. I love the inventive style, the sparse, electric language, the risky aesthetic complete with the “buffering” symbol, floated cubes, and phrases in Korean. Williams’ hand reaches out from these pages and pulls, pulls, pulls the heart by its truest beat. He drags us to the mirror and makes us look unflinchingly at who we are. And in the end, he allows us to love ourselves.
Williams’ words intensify in the middle section Emergency Codes. (p.39) This section begs to be story-boarded into a mini-series about Dre the central character of this section. In an indictment of urban policing, shades of a Law & Order episode, “Emergency Codes”, draws in the reader as Willliams starts his poem with a question: “Is this anything that couldn’t wait? the police will say.”
I read it aloud for the full impact – it works!
Readers can’t help but be drawn in by Williams’s abrupt, stark language, laced with words that make readers uncomfortable: punk, visceral, machete, gangsta. Luckily, for readers, these grim tales are infused with humour, spotlighting Williams’ obvious wit. [...] Williams’ ability to easily transition between scenes of gloom and pessimism to scenes of hope, makes You Know Who You Are a diverse collection, rooted in authenticity and powerful words.
Rather than whimsy, Williams uses humour and play like the best comics to address difficult contemporary issues such as race, relationships or the 21st century. Like all intriguing new voices, he excels at giving you not what you want, but what you need.
And it’s a good thing, too, because Williams is a neat writer — his work spare and chiseled. [...] Yowza! Williams is an incisive writer, with a singular voice and perspective.
The letters on the cover of Ian Williams’ debut collection are all white except for one “u” and one “i,” both of which are red. This is because the poems in the book are chiefly concerned with the pronouns “you” and “I.” From the dedication to the epigraph to the poems themselves, everything between the covers explores the idea of address. Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?
Williams sneaks his poetry debut into the mainstream, shrouded in a thick cloak of pop culture references and visual noise.