Franciscan Notes

by Alan Williamson


Franciscan Notes carries us from the deaths of loved ones and the poet’s own approaching old age to the grounds of hope glimpsed at La Verna and Assisi, and from a pilgrimage to India and Japan. A wide gamut of human spiritual experience and a spot of the ecstatic, these poems form in deference to the great Rinzai Zen question, “If you cannot endure this moment, what can you endure?”

Published: October 2019
Format: paperback

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ISBN: 9781946482259 Category: Tags: , , ,

“It is impossible to leave Alan Williamson’s Franciscan Notes without experiencing the inmost smile that is the response of the body and mind to intimate, authentic truth-telling. Each poem embodies processes of reckoning with the intricacies of mythmaking and unmasking in the ‘lifework’ of loving. Invoking the Franciscan spiritual practice of discernment through the ‘trinity’ of memory, intelligence, and love, Williamson unlocks in the reader expectations of sudden joy.”  — Kevin McIlvoy, author of At The Gate of All Wonder

This collection is phenomenal—a seminal work.” — Dede Cummings, Publisher, Green Writers Press


The book begins with deaths: chiefly the poet’s mother’s, but also those of cherished mentors and friends. Poems explore living beyond those deaths and approaching old age, and then do some traveling. Williamson takes a pilgrimage to Japan and India, inspired by his practice of Zen meditation, and placed under the aegis of a saying from the great Rinzai Zen monastery at Daitoku-ji: “If you cannot endure this moment, what can you endure?” A theme then becomes enduring the public moment, with all its griefs and opportunities for growth.

The reader is then transported with the poet to Italy. In 2000, Williamson began visiting Tuscany regularly, and eventually became a property owner there. The poems set in Italy dwell on an encounter with old culture, and its potential to encourage both resignation and mysticism, with moods that persist from the tutelary geniuses of two great Italian poets: the nihilistic Leopardi and the tentatively mystical Montale. Gathering around those experiences multiple lore from music, philosophy and science, it becomes an extended meditation on mental suffering, glimpses of the ecstatic, and the double nature of our life, “skull / and beatific face,” with “the immortal recombinants of fire and water.”


Alan Williamson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis, teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, and has published five books of poetry and five of criticism. He has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation; and has been a poetry panelist for the NEA and for the Pulitzer Prize.


Additional information

Weight 0.4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × 0.4 × 9 in


When the flash came straight down on us and cracked open

the afternoon sleep the rain had eased me into
untold floating minutes earlier,
and the earth, or was it just our building, trembled;

And I thought how my mother who is dead

taught me to count the seconds after the lightning,
and that each one meant we were farther off, and safer,
so hiding, from me, her own irrational fear;

And then I thought of the bark huts in the diorama

of this place three thousand years ago; how
the same eagle stooped and sent men running; and thought

How the immortal recombinants of fire and water

would know no difference between then and now—
blinking into the space where planets falter.