Poet Ty Williams writes honestly about the lies we tell

Andy Downing
Ty Williams

Poet Ty Williams talked extensively about lying in a recent interview, but every word he spoke rung true.

“I was doing a lot of writing, and I hadn’t chosen the poems that were going to go in the collection, but I had the title, Elegantly Buried Lies,” said Williams of his just-released chapbook, which he’ll read from during an appearance at Writers' Block at Kafe Kerouac tonight, Sept. 18, as part of Streetlight Guild’s month-long poetry series “Rhythm & Refrain.” “I liked the way it sounds, and then I started noticing that most of the poems I had earmarked for it — not all of them, but most of them — were about lies. They’re about the lies we tell each other, and the lies we tell ourselves to get through, to survive, to hype ourselves up.”

Opener “Soviet Wings” sets the tone, with Williams recounting a mid-'90s hockey exhibition played in Cleveland that he attended expecting to see the Moscow professionals perform with the kind of ruthless efficiency that made Russians such compelling film villains during the 1980s and beyond. Instead, the team was listless and flat when it hit the ice, not living up to the image the program had long projected.

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Other lies within the collection are more personal, with Williams telling himself that he’ll hold on to his calmer vacation-self long after the suntan fades (“Do the Thing”), finding fleeting moments of happiness outside of a fractured relationship (“Pull Up,” from which the collection pulls its title) and addressing his mother’s decision to relocate her children from the city to the suburbs in the name of safety but merely swapping one kind of danger for another (“Skip Trace”).

Williams, who has long had a fascination with language, started writing poetry in high school and pursued it throughout his early professional life — he talked of attending a poetry night in the basement bookstore of the Shops at Worthington Place — eventually setting the craft aside as his corporate job took over. But two years ago, when Williams stepped away from the 9-to-5 world, he returned to writing with a new perspective, ditching a long-held tendency to try and be clever in order to home in on deeper universal truths.

“I’ve recently started therapy, and that helps bring those things up from the past, where you’re kind of checking in on them,” said Williams, who also remarried in 2016. “And then I just turned 50 this summer, and there’s a whole lot of self-reflection from that going on in all areas of my life. … All of these things are coming together professionally, educationally, personally for me to try and get a handle on.”

A number of the poems are colored in some way by Williams’ upbringing as both a child of divorce and a survivor of and witness to domestic abuse. This idea surfaces most bluntly in a pair of poems. In “I Was a Valley,” Williams describes himself as “a valley between two mountains/fear to the east and rage to the west,” interspersing scenes of domestic discord with the soothing tones of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” Then, on “There’s No Way You Could Have Known If I Never Offered,” Williams traces his early life experiences through the present day, considering the impact it might have had on everything from past romantic relationships to his still-intact instinctive flight response. “And imagine that it all/makes sense why I flinch,” he writes in the gut-punch closing line.

“Recovering from abuse, seeing all those behavior patterns, it makes sense why I couldn’t commit to this relationship. It makes sense why I talked like that to this person,” said Williams, who left the corporate world two years ago and is currently working towards a degree in education at Ohio State, as documented in “My Mid-Life Crisis Is This: Becoming an English Teacher.”

Even Williams’ observational nature, which exhibits itself in vivid lines describing neighbors, former partners and even decades-old hockey exhibitions, has its roots in that childhood hurt.

“Being a child of divorce, you kind of sit back and wait your turn, or wait for your cue to speak up, because often one parent expects one thing and the other expects something else,” Williams said. “So you’re watching and monitoring and waiting for cues. And I was already the kid who never fit in at school. … I wasn’t playing the reindeer game, but I’d be off to the side watching. I felt invisible, in a lot of ways. But in that invisibility I was always watching.”

Writers' Block 

Kafe Kerouac

8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18

2250 N. High St., Campus


Ty Williams