Raleigh Rambles

John Dancy-Jones at large!

Jeffery Beam helps us mourn Jonathan Williams

  he done

what he could

when he got round

to it

Jeffery Beam is a wonderful literary character who works at UNC-CH and lives in Hillsborough.  He has a book out of collected poems and has many interesting publications to his credit.

He is always alerting me to wonderful things, such as his readings for Groundhog Day, or a friend’s musical setting for a soldier’s last letter home, or the blooming of the Dove tree in the UNC Arboretum.  Recently he gave me the news that Jonathan Williams had died.  He knew the man and understood his importance as few do.

Here is the beginning of Jeffery’s obituary:

                      Poet, publisher, and photographer Jonathan Chamberlain Williams, founder of The Jargon Society press, one of the most renowned small presses of the last half of the twentieth century, and champion and publisher of some of the most important mid and late century poets in the United States and England, died on March 16, 2008 in Highlands, North Carolina. Williams, 79, began his avant-garde press while a student at the Chicago Institute of Design, naming it “Jargon” not only for its meaning of personal idiom, but after the French spring pear, “jargonelle” and the French “jargon,” meaning the twittering of birds.

Jeffery writes of his personal work, the incredibly important work of The Jargon Society press, but mostly he evokes for us the amazingly unique style and oulook of this man.

                       Williams’ interests and talents, revealed him as a Renaissance man – publisher; poet and satirist; book designer; editor; photographer; legendary correspondent; literary, art, and photography critic and collector; early collector and proselytizer of visionary folk art; cultural anthropologist; curmudgeon; happy gardener; resolute walker; and keen and adroit raconteur and gourmand.  Williams’ refined decorum and speech, and sartorial style, contrasted sharply, yet pleasingly, with his delight in the bawdy, his incisive humor, and his confidently experimental and inventive poems and prose.  His interests, in his own words, raised, “the common to grace,” while paying “close attention to the earthy.” At the forefront of the avant-garde, and yet possessing a deep appreciation of the traditional, Williams celebrated, rescued, and preserved, as he described it, “more and more away from the High Art of the city” settling “for what I could unearth and respect in the tall grass.”


Just closed is a show whose prospectus gives some idea of the many dimensions of this man.  Thank you, Jeffery, as we try to find the proper way to remember and honor this unique individual.

The Jargon Society has come under the wing of the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center in Asheville.


News from Jeff Beam

 GREEN HILL CENTER FOR NORTH CAROLINA ART presents “If you can kill a snake with it, it ain’t art” – The personal art collection of Jonathan Williams

 …this unusual, varied, and exciting collection of art collected by one of the finest poets of his generation, Jonathan Williams.  Details below.


GREEN HILL CENTER FOR NORTH CAROLINA ART presents “If you can kill a snake with it, it ain’t art”

January 23rd 2009 –March 22nd 2009

Selected works from the collection of North Carolina poet and publisher Jonathan Williams: an exhibition by guest curator Tom Patterson

If you can kill a snake with it, it ain’t art is an exhibition of work from the personal collection of acclaimed poet and Jargon Society Press publisher Jonathan Williams, a native North Carolinian. Williams, who passed away in the spring of 2008, was a student at Black Mountain College where he studied with many of the great American artists of the mid-20th century. The more than 100 handsomely designed books that Jargon has published in its 55-year history stand as one enduringly significant testament to the range of Williams’ visual interests.. While the books of the Jargon Society have been the focus of several exhibitions over the years this exhibition, which was first shown at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, is the first to focus on Williams’ wide-ranging art collection.

The exhibition consists of more than 100 objects, including:

photography by Ansel Adams, Lyle Bonge, Harry Callahan, William Christenberry, Clarence John Laughlin, Roger Manley, Elizabeth Matheson, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, John Menapace, Guy Mendes, Art Sinsabaugh, Frederick Sommer, Doris Ulmann and others;

sculpture, works on paper and works in other mediums by contemporary artists William Anthony, Glen Baxter, Richard C., Gregory Corso, Jorge Fick, John Furnival, David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj, Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchen, Tom Phillips, Bernard G. Schatz (aka L-15) and others;

contemporary Southern folk art, including works by Vernon Burwell, Howard Finster, James Harold Jennings, Eddie Owens Martin (a.k.a. St. EOM), Gertrude Morgan, Juanita Rogers, Mary T. Smith, Edgar Tolson, Bill Traylor and others;

a selection of photographs by JW himself, including portraits of poets and artists, views of the graves of
artists and writers, views of outsider-art environments in the U.S. and Europe;

and a selection of limited-edition books that Williams has published under the Jargon imprint.

The exhibition’s main title is a quotation William’s attributes to photographer Orcenith Lyle Bonge, who was among Williams’ fellow students at Black Mountain and is represented in the exhibition.

Guest curator Tom Patterson and poet Thomas Meyer will be present at the opening and will say a few words in homage to Jonathan Williams.

North Carolina poet Jonathan Williams (1929-May 2008 collected things that captured his visual attention and imagination for most of his life, and especially since the beginning of the 1950s, around the time he dropped out of Princeton University and found a more suitable educational niche for himself closer to home at Black Mountain College.

Before he began to establish himself as a poet and publisher closely tied to the Black Mountain school of writing (the Beat movement’s East-Coast wing, in effect), Williams had spent a couple of years investigating the visual arts. He studied painting, printmaking and book design, first at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., then at the Institute of Design in Chicago. In 1951 he turned to
photography, and his desire to study with photographers Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind led him to Black Mountain, where they both taught that summer.
Black Mountain would only survive for another five years before closing its doors, but the friendships and associations that Williams formed there played a big part in determining his future. Williams thereafter began to concentrate much of his attention on developing his own poetic voice and–under the imprint of his pioneering Jargon Press–publishing the poetry of Olson and other avant-garde writers of the time. But Williams also continued to make photographs and otherwise to maintain an active engagement with visual art and artists.

Guest curator Tom Patterson is a writer, critic, independent curator and the author of several books on contemporary folk art and artists, including the Jargon-published St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan (1987) and Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Watson-
Guptill Publications, New York, 2001). As executive director of the Jargon Society and the director of its Southern Visionary Folk Art Project from 1984 to 1987, Patterson worked collaboratively with Jonathan Williams. He has enthusiastically followed Williams’ work since their first meeting in 1974.

The Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art is located at 200 N. Davie Street in the Greensboro Cultural Center in downtown Greensboro.

RR posts on BMC

June 8, 2008 - Posted by | Black Mountain, literary | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Beam’s rich and varied literary contributions have been recognized here before, but his recent reading at the UNC Botanical garden was a found treasure.  He was surrounded by […]

    Pingback by Jeffery Beam’s Gospel celebrates Earth « Raleigh Rambles | December 26, 2010

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