The sonnet in English, which has changed only incrementally since Wyatt passed off Petrarch’s sonnets as his own, metamorphoses further with Greg Williamson’s brilliant inventions. I imagine a time when his particular form of the little song may even take on his name and be added to the distinguished list: the Petrarchan sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet, the Miltonic sonnet, the Williamsonnet. I mean it. And this sequence deserves to take its place with the best.
– Mark Jarman
Set up rather like an encyclopedia, and containing urgent information about pretty much everything – from the Big Bang to the second shooter on the grassy knoll – Greg Williamson’s A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck is a collection of sonnets unlike any other. The main character, an unnamed Everyman – a salesman, a poet, a conspiracy work, “the last man left alive” – a (somewhat) loveable loser, gets knocked off in the ninth line of every entry and is thereby condemned to being “old-fashioned, out of step, passe” for the duration.
Though full of science, A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck is anything but forbidding, and though full of dead people, and inescapably dark, it also manages, somehow, to be hilariously funny. The award-winning author of The Silent Partner and Errors in the Script is at the top of his game in this wildly inventive, formally spectacular and hugely accomplished book.
Released in 2008, A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck received enthusiastic reviews from The New York Review of Books, The Yale Review, and The Times Literary Supplement among others.
Critic and poet Brad Leithauser wrote, “Cleverness of this high-flying sort can transport a book…quite some distance, but on its own probably would be insufficient to make A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck the success that it is. The book holds up so well, richly repaying rereading, because there’s a somber, eerie iciness at its core.”
“Who ever would have thought that so many sonnets could still be so much fun? From birth to death, from the self to the cosmos, Greg Williamson’s energetic sequence takes us on a roller-coaster ride through the external and internal universe. Along the way he updates and invigorates the form of the sonnet itself. Like the range of his subjects, his diction winds, bends, lurches, and leaps from the scientific (‘thermohaline,’ ‘foraminifers,’ ‘isobars’), to the accurate but fanciful (‘Snood, Shako, Tam-o-shanter, Shriner fez’), to the invented (‘enrichum lawyericulum,’ ‘golfonaut,’ ‘blingblingitis’). The poems amuse, impress, and finally dazzle us. Williamson may often seem drunk on language, but he is always sober in his thinking. He takes an ordinary phenomenon like water, or a hat, then finds an appropriate cliché (‘we’re all wet,’ ‘under your hat’) and plumbs both of them, expanding, opening them up, looking at them anew. Words are his materials, and he uses them like a master craftsman. Out of carbon he makes diamonds.” – Willard Spiegelman
“[A]mong the canniest and most nimble-witted of American poets … Williamson, whose previous collection, Errors in the Script, demonstrated his powers of tour-de-force formal invention … here creates his own sonnet form … Science, technology, sports, politics, music, social satire, nautical history, pop culture: such far-flung realms of thought and language jostle each other in a democracy of tropes, frequently within a single poem … Williamson’s wild inventiveness – formal, linguistical – would be a trap for lesser poets, his masks at times so elaborate and seamless that only a poet of the first order could speak affectingly through them. When on his game, which he is most of the time, Williamson manages to do just that. His dazzling poems leap from the ludic to the mordant and back.” – David Yezzi