“Epigraphs” Chrissy Williams (if p then q) – book review

Chrissy Williams Epigraphs book cover

There are a hundred attributed quotations, from the famous to yesterday’s tweet, from significant history to jokes, which are arranged five to a page and loosely gathered around a theme,

“Here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine.”
Heston Aerodrome, 30th September 1938
Neville Chamberlain

“So – if on your way to work, you stumble into a coffin being pulled out of a funeral parlour – is that like a bad omen? #worried”
tweet by @keimiller 6/6

“Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you”
‘Death Fugue’ (translated by Michael Hamburger)
Paul Celan

“As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.”
Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Gene Roddenberry

“Live life like you’re gonna die
Because you are.”
‘You’ll Have Time’
William Shatner.

The epigraphs could be read individually or a sequence of voices. The juxtaposition of epigraphs which could be regarded as serious and historically worthy, near quotations from comics or tweets both lightens the overall tone of the collection and diversity prompts readers to consider the sequential order of quotes. The lightness of touch combined with the use of different voices that treat the subject or theme indirectly allows the sequence to transcend its subject. It’s both playful and structured. Here the subject is writing but could be any artistic endeavour:

“I picked up my pen and found true north.”
‘On Watching Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival Guide’
Roisin Tierney

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart… Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”
On Writing
Stephen King

“I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order.”
Morecame and Wise Christmas Show 1971
Eric Morecambe

“For here there is no place
that does not see you: you must change your life”
‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ (trans. Stephen Mitchell)
Rainer Maria Rilke

The first two quotations appear, at face value, to be contradictory: one implies that picking up a pen is an act of clarity and direction, the other that picking up a pen is loaded with emotional baggage that can’t measure up to the desire to take control and record what the writer wants to record. The third seems flippant, a bit of comical light relief. Yet it has a serious point. Poetry is about putting the best words in the best order so the frustration that comes from having the right words but not being able to get them in the right order seems to echo the quotation from Stephen King. But it also unifies the first two quotes because, in order to get the best words in the best order, writing needs structure or direction. A point underlined by the final quotation.

The strength of “Epigraphs” is that the reader can stay in the shallows or go as deep as they like. It can be read casually as a thematic grouping of quotations or readers can explore the links and relationships between quotations.

Purchase “Epigraphs” from if p then q

Review of Flying into the Bear Chrissy Williams


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