Wednesday, January 4, 2017


I am deeply sad to note the death of my writing friend and colleague Judith Ortiz Cofer. Her passing came as a shock to me, as I had not known she was ill with cancer for the past couple of years. That's what retiring and becoming a recluse does to one. I wish I had stayed in touch.

Judith was a fellow member of the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, and she was the one responsible for getting me involved as an adjunct professor in the UGA Creative Writing program many years ago. She was a pioneer in the rich, cross-cultural world of Puerto Rican-American literature and taught us so much with her writing, teaching, and public speaking.

The world seems like a smaller place without her.

Thank you, Judith, for great books and a life well-lived. You gave us joy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dylan's Nobel

I'm absolutely ecstatic that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature this morning. I think it's long overdue and points toward a broader view of what literature is and can be. He has always been one of my heroes. Could we see this coming? The answer, my friend, is blowing' in the wind.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Athens Reading in September

Philip Lee Williams to read at UGA event celebrating poetry and nature

Hargrett Library, Special Collections auditorium
300 Hull Street, Athens 30601
Wednesday September 14, 2016
7:00 p.m.

An evening of local authors celebrating poetry and nature will be hosted by UGA Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, September 14, at 7 p.m. The event will be at the Special Collections Library auditorium in the Richard B. Russell Building on the UGA campus. The event is open free to the public.

Now confirmed to read are Philip Lee Williams (Elegies for the Water, 2009, The Flower Seeker: An Epic Poem of William Bartram, 2010, and The Color of All Things: 99 Love Poems, 2015; Clela Reed (Dancing on the Rim, 2009, and The Hero of the Revolution Serves Us Tea, 2013); Robert Ambrose, Jr. (Journey to Embarkation, 2016); and retired UGA ecology professor  John Pickering. There will also be four Discover Life poetry prize readings by a Clarke County high school students to be selected in early September. Each winner will receive $250

D. A. Crossley, research professor emeritus of UGA's Odum School of Ecology and president of the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History, will present the authors.


Friends of the Georgia Museum of Natural History
Phone: (706) 542-0464

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Take It Easy

Some years ago, when one of my books was being read as a project by an entire county, I spoke to a middle school--something like 700 kids in the audience. At the end of my talk, I asked for questions, and as usual for kids that age, they were blunt and often very funny. 

Then one kid stood and yelled, "What is your favorite band?" I wasn't expecting the question at all and didn't have time to think, so I said the first thing that came to mind. I was ready for looks of confusion and even incomprehension. This was about 10 years back, so I supposed they would never have heard of music from my era. But I said it anyway: "the Eagles."

I thought I'd be able to hear a pin drop. Instead, the place absolutely exploded. Kids were screaming and shaking their fists, standing on their chairs, cheering and clapping. These were kids born in the early 90s.

I was stunned. They LOVED the Eagles, knew their music, wanted desperately to cheer for them.

It was a good lesson, that things people really love have no sell-by date.

I wish people didn't, either, but Glenn Frey's shocking death Monday in New York makes it clear that while what we do can live forever, our physical bodies won't.

We've lost so many people in the past few weeks, almost too many to count. But Frey's death feels much more personal to me, more like the death of John Lennon or John Denver. I love the Eagles because they were primarily a vocal band with unsurpassed harmonies. Sure they were a country-rock band and sometimes straight rockers, but first and always came the vocal harmony, tight as a drum head and smooth as melting butter.

I've watched the film History of the Eagles more times than I want to say. It makes me happy in a way that's hard to describe. About a group of kids who had a dream and made it come true.

One of the things the film really left out, though, is how well the Eagles fit their time. I was in college during the Vietnam War, and all of us guys were scared to death we'd have to go to that ghastly mistake, even die there for no good reason at all. As the war was winding down, the Eagles hit the airwaves with "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and it made us feel like we could breathe and be happy again. Sure, it was just a three-minute pop song. But it was also a gift to a war-weary world, a deep, cleansing breath and a promise that we had a future, come what may of it.

So Glenn Frey's death hits us hard, people of my age. No, the Eagles didn't sing blues, weren't heirs of Robert Johnson, were a little too white-bread for those who loved punk and hard rock. But for some of us, their music was, and always will be, the soundtrack of our lives.

You did good, Glenn. Go rest high upon that mountain. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

New Letters on the Air interview

Hello, all.

After taking some months off to rest from being in the public eye with two books in the space of six months, I'm gingerly stepping back into the world of blogging.

I wanted to let anyone know who might be stopping off here that my interview with the national radio program "New Letters on the Air" is now online and should be coming to a Public Radio Station near you soon if it hasn't already.

Here is the link:

Happy holidays to you all!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lament for the Dead

I was honored to be asked to be part of a national online poetry project this week. Here is how it is described:

"Lament for the Dead is an online community poetry project which will mark the death of every person killed by police this summer, and every police officer who loses life in the line of duty, with a poem. 

"The first lie that hate tells us is that any other person is not as human as we are.
"This project resists that lie by recognizing each other’s humanity, even in the most difficult places."

Go to to read the poems. 

And my poem for Jason Davis, killed earlier this week in Los Angeles:

On Rose Avenue

In our silence when the gun stops speaking,
as the blood’s imperial course
is run, and the ruthless rupture
of a membrane speaks, the witnesses gather,
moon to sun, into a dream of cool unbreaking.

We feel our grief turn into stars,
a tunneling of lead cuts source to source,
the wind grow nameless with this grief,
memory of a rising witnessed rapture.
Rage lives in us for such a taking.

This is not the way to live, to die
with a trigger’s sudden twitch.
This is not the way to die, to live
remembering how autumn takes a leaf
down fluttering into the older death.

In the silence, as our screams call halt
to this invisible, inevitable march,
our days glide on the rivers of their leaking,
a wind, a moon, a sun, our bone a sheath
for the ravages of gun and fragile flesh.

Jason, homeless, frantic in his waving
madness, must have felt the blade
of death glow as he slashed the air.
Nothing anymore will turn fresh
as autumn in a gutshot glade.

On Rose Avenue, no stain is left
to scrub out from the sidewalk crack.
On Rose Avenue, the Taser’s ache
still echoes on. Sunlight twisted
in his hair, there on Rose Avenue.

His home was in the dying bed,
wind, moon, a sun, his bones a sheath.
Thousands now have watched him writhe
online in the silence of an unscreamed pain.
In our madness, guns go on speaking.

This is not the way to die, no home
in memory or sight. Where were
Jason’s argonauts, his doubled courage
shining inward toward the night?
Rage lives in us for this taking.

Has he now in dying madness come
to Colchis for the Golden Fleece?
Passed by the Sirens with their open
eyes and photographing phones,
seeking passage from a voyaging pain?

We feel our grief turned into stars,
see the dead rise up, grow sane.
His home was in the dying bed.
And so we cry for what burns true
on the sidewalk, on Rose Avenue.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Remembering Days Past

Celebrities die every day like other people. Sometimes, I can hardly remember who they are or what they did until I read the obituary or story. At other times, it hits me with the force of memory and gratitude.

So it was yesterday when I heard that Omar Sharif had died at 83. I wasn't shocked. It had been announced earlier this year that he had Alzheimer's, and he was getting on in years. Still, it's been a long time since I felt the death of a public figure quite so deeply.

I was 15, almost 16, when my mother took me to see Dr. Zhivago at the old Beechwood Theatre in Athens. (When it was a single, huge screen.) I think this is the only time she and I went to the movies alone. Maybe she wanted to see it and wanted company. I just don't remember.

But the movie hit me like a train going a million miles an hour. It was the first time I understood what it could be like to live as an Artist--transcendent at times, tragic at others--and I knew I wanted it more than I wanted food and air.

Sharif had the title role, and he played what he later called "an almost perfect man." Indeed, he was in some ways the second coming of Atticus Finch. But what moved me was his ability to keep going, keep writing verse even when the world and his own life was coming apart at the seems. Maybe art could be the thing to make the world cohere for someone like me.

I have always wished I'd been able to thank Omar and David Lean for that movie. Obviously, too, I fell madly in love with Julie Christie and Geraldine Chaplin. But by that point in my life, I knew movies were artful lies, beautiful stories to move and madden.

I doubt any movie had a greater impact on me in my life than Dr. Zhivago. Bless you, Omar Sharif, for bringing to life a man who created a world one line at a time.