damn near might still be is what it is

marcus scott williams
Noemi Press ($18)

by Steve Roberts

The cover of marcus scott williams’s damn near might still be is what it is immediately clues readers in to the lower-case, mostly punctuation-free writing they’ll encounter throughout the book’s six sections. Anyone who regularly communicates via text will be familiar with the style, abbreviations, and slang the author uses, though grammar purists will be instantly nauseous—and they deserve it, because the prose here connects more genuinely because of this neglect of the rules, not despite it. The book is organized around one to two page “posts,” not unlike captions you might see on a writer’s Instagram page or website. The similarity these passages (sometimes as short as one sentence or less) have to social media is apparent instantly, and it heightens the material.

damn near takes place in a multitude of locations—Denver, New York, Milan, London, etc.—as well as at a great deal of unidentified places on U.S. roads. Often reading like a travel diary, the book draws the reader in with williams’s blunt sincerity about things like eating, drinking, and rest stops, as well as by the inclusion of a dozen or so companions never fully described in exposition. This is a technique first popularized by Frank O’Hara, and it’s a good one, as we come to see the characters not just as the author’s friends, but as our own. The sparkling, near-poetic prose comes across as the result of happy accidents instead of deliberate intention; the author feels like a gifted bohemian who, again like O’Hara, might step away from a party to write a bit before returning.

This global trek isn’t in any way mired down by pretension, and williams isn’t afraid to mention the realities of Panda Express or sleeping on couches. No matter the scenery in front of him, he never fails to mention some telling detail, like that every step is taken in “espresso-splattered Doc Martens.” This counterpoint is fresh compared to so much writing by individuals eager to express how streetwise they are. Williams is a world traveler, but he deliberately grounds the reader in his voice, establishing that this is a personal view, not a pristine, unopinionated travel guide.

No matter the subject, the voice of prose either sinks or swims; here, all this clever technique is buoyed by williams’s down-to-earth voice, which is full of painful self-awareness and surprising humor; the book takes itself seriously, but only just enough, a line that is hard to define no matter where you’d like to be on it. Ultimately, damn near might still be is what it is succeeds because williams trusts his audience not to require him to dress his talent up, which is as startling as it is appreciated.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore

Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022