Math textbooks ask questions with easy answers: Billy has five nickels, Jane gets to the train first, etc. In Word Problems, Ian Williams tries to force poetry to offer us such unambiguous answers, slotting tough questions about racial inequality, our pernicious depression, and troubled relationships between people—questions that resist tidy resolutions—into verse. If we rely too heavily on science and math to understand the ineffable, he suggests, we end up in the absurd position of asking the wrong questions altogether.
With characteristic inventiveness, Williams presents an alternative to associative lyric poems and narrative prose poems. This new mode is situational—poems behave as propositions that invite explicit reader participation. They are immersive and ever-progressing, with inventive typography. Like an industrial building, many of the poems anxiously leave their grammar exposed.
"[Ian Williams] blends personal emotion with historical tension, tradition and modernity, ordinary and magical so seamlessly. When he pulls the strings of contradictions: light and heavy, hilarious and serious, I can’t help but dance like a happy puppet in the masterful hands. I’m so happy to find another shining star above Canada’s poetry horizon!"- Griffin Prize Judges’ Citation on <i>Personals</i>