The Magpie's Bagpipe: Selected Essays

By Jonathan Chamberlain Williams

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Book details

Hardcover, 185 pages
by North Point Press

(first published January 1st 1982)

0865470928 (ISBN13: 9780865470927)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Paul Secor

Jonathan Williams was a poet, a photographer, an essayist, a publisher, a man who knew more interesting people than most of us can imagine, and much more.

Thomas Meyer's introduction to The Magpie's Bagpipe begins:
"'Mr. Wilde, do you like music? the great man was once asked by a Chelsea hostess. Having accepted her invitation to tea, he was now amidst a very long recital, youngest daughter at the Bechstein, in his honor. 'Oh, no. Not at all!' he confessed, 'But I like this.'"

That may give you a sense of the spirit of this book of essays. If you read it, you will find appreciations of Stevie Smith, Mina Loy, Charles Mingus at the Five Spot in 1959, Aaron Siskind, Clarence John Laughlin, a wonderful interview with Basil Bunting, the diary of a hike in Wales, a humorous account of a poetry reading in London, and more, more, more. If you are unfamiliar with some or all of the folks mentioned above, reading Mr. Williams will probably entice you to seek their works out.

I'll end this with some words from Mr. Williams' tribute to Lorine Niedecker:

"... And how good she is in this next poem about the weekly washday - How much Lorine Niedecker gets in there:"

The clothesline post is set
yet no totem-carvings distinguish the Niedecker tribe
from the rest; every seventh day they wash:
worship sun; fear rain, their neighbor's eyes,
raise their hands from ground to sky
and hang or fall by the whiteness of their all.

"This is a world that still matters, in which care may rule, as in Thoreau's meadow where so much was going on - if you looked."

And his words after Ms. Niedecker's passing in 1970, when he and a number of other literary people wrote and called The New York Times asking that rag to print an obituary, to no avail:

"There is not much to say, really, except that she died much as she lived: in privacy."


Mr. Williams has always been a North Cackalackee literary renegade --- he is funny and smart. Sometimes baffling, but always interesting. Kind of like Guy Davenport but reckless and free.