Please Print Clearly in Block Letters

by Ian Williams

Name. Permanent address. Mailing address (if different).
Will you want me when I ask you to vacuum the stairs
with the hose attachment? Daytime telephone number.
when we are eating cabbage for the third straight night?
Evening. Cell. Email. when you hear my footsteps
descend the basement stairs during the Leafs game?

Date of birth. Sex. Marital status. Will you want me
when birds walk across my face? Employment
in the last two years. and I give up mowing
my legs? From. To. give up dusting my cheeks?
From. To. give up Restylane?

                                                      Emergency
contact information. when I sit on the toilet seat
of the ensuite weeping? Name. over a clot of blood?
Relationship. over nothing? Telephone. Would you if I migrate
Type of card. Name on card. Card number. if I start calling
you Mr. Shopkeeper? Date of expiry. if I keep asking you if
you’ll be getting any milk soon for the baby?

(Optional) Choose a security question. Would you want me
if I lose a limb? Mother’s maiden name. if I lose a breast?
Year of father’s birth. Will you want me when
I declare the above statements are true. I lose half of me?
Signature. Date. and half of you?

Notes on the Poem

This poem from Ian Williams' 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Personals takes the staid structure of a form (think application form, tax form, registration form - ho hum) and works its way into your heart. How does he manage that? With one exception, the lines of the poem when scanned like a form - without reading too closely, just letting the words swim past - are very similar. The lines are pretty uniform in length, like neatly aligned fields on a form. That one exception is "Emergency / contact information", which slides out of alignment abruptly the way our thoughts might as we contemplate who that contact might be and what the emergency might be that might necessitate alerting him or her. At some point, however onerous the exercise is, we have to look closer at a form to complete it. As we start to do that with this poem, our scrutiny reveals a heartwrenching story between the lines and labels and blanks to be filled. Those moments of uncertainty, yearning, frustration and more are randomly punctuated, fragmented sentences ... The form's crisp structure seems to be breaking down and apart. As the judges' citation for Personals observes: "He blends personal emotion with historical tension, tradition and modernity, ordinary and magical so seamlessly." In that spirit, Williams is also clearly adept at juxtaposing the clinical and mundane with the fraught, the emotional, the poignant. Forms are often associated with or signify life milestones, such as birth, death, employment, marriage, marriage dissolution. Williams has created a potent mashup of the sterile forms with the fertile passions and emotions connected to those milestones and their repercussions. He's filled in the form fields with feeling, quite literally.

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