The Road to Happiness
“From Huck and Jim’s raft ride down the Mississippi, to the Joad family’s drive from Oklahoma to California after their crops are destroyed in the Dust Bowl, to fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross’s ride from Fort Smith, Arkansas, into the wilderness to avenge her father’s death—to go on the road means freedom, adventure, the shucking of responsibilities, and the promise of a better future, especially if that road heads west….
“The road in Johnathon Williams’s thoughtful first collection, The Road to Happiness, however, is a road that runs through rural western Arkansas, and the speaker is not on it. These poems are to Arkansas what Robert Frost’s poems are to New England: they are poems deeply rooted in a physical place, with copperheads, locust shells, and blackberries; kilns, pork rinds, and Walmart, too; and they are spoken by a colloquial voice that calls mud wasps “dirt daubers,” refers to the mentally challenged as “retards,” and commands dogs to “turn loose” when their jaws lock on something they shouldn’t. Like Frost, Williams explores a primal darkness and isolation, using the constraints of blank verse and the sonnet to order the chaos of a difficult life and quiet what would otherwise be unmanageable feelings. Ultimately, he shows us the frustration and clarity of vision that come when one physically and emotionally stays put.”
—From the foreword by Katrina Vandenberg
Johnathon Williams is a writer and web developer living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His poems and essays have appeared in Best New Poets 2009, Crab Orchard Review, and The Morning News, among other publications. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas. The Road to Happiness is his first book.
Katrina Vandenberg is the author of two books of poems, The Alphabet Not Unlike the World and Atlas, and co-author of the chapbook On Marriage. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Southern Review, The American Scholar, Orion, Post Road, Poets and Writers, and other magazines. She has received fellowships from the McKnight, Bush, and Fulbright Foundations; been a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference; and held residencies at the Amy Clampitt House, the Poetry Center of Chicago, and the MacDowell Colony. She teaches in the Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband, novelist John Reimringer, and their daughter, Anna.