Going Home: A Chat with Poet H. Marie Williams

April 06, 2015
H. Marie Williams

During her first year of college in New York City, H. Marie Williams found herself in quite the predicament. Having been instructed by her professor to write a paper on how people learn information in a storytelling format, she decided to recount her New York City subway experience through poetry. Eventually, the professor returned everyone’s graded papers, but pulled Williams aside into her office. To Williams’ shock, the professor began questioning whether or not she had plagiarized her work due to the profoundness of what she had written as just a 19-year-old. After a short personal investigation, the professor could not find any “original” sources for Willams’ work, and proceeded to give her an A without any apology. Iris got an opportunity to read this very poem, and spoke with Williams about her work as a writer and activist, as well as her upcoming event with U.Va.'s Black Alumni Weekend.

"Going Home"

Thunder clashes as metal meets metal and sighs

In and out in and out persons bustle

Ding! Stand clear of the closing doors please.

Voices in harmony telling of truths

Telling of lies, telling of individuality Ching-shwish-click-ick!

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen.”

Apologies offered for a disturbance no one acknowledges.

“I am homeless and if you could spare some change…”

Silenced, in the minds of those around until…

Staggering thro’ the car

“Ouch! That was my foot!”

“I’m sorry Miss. Please excuse me, I only ask for help.”


Headphones drip illicit lyrics

A bop, accompanied by sporadic movements

Threatened by sounds of foreign music

A woman gives up her seat to find a predator

“Hey cutie, where you headed this beautiful morning?”

Breaking concentration lyricist to lyricist

Though styles changed

Thunder clashes as metal meets metal and sighs

In and out in and out persons bustle

Ding! Stand clear of the closing doors please.

Voices in harmony telling of truths

Telling of lives, telling of love

Brrrriiiiiinnnngg! “Hello. Hello? Hi sweetie. No, I just got on the train…”

Glances exchanged, beauty in youth observed…

A stressful sigh, a wipe of the brow

One man says, “Would you like my seat?”

“No, thank you.” Standing preferred.

As carriage wheels crush toes, “Sorry, excuse me…”

Parking in aisle, though bumped and nudged “he’s so adorable,” _________ says.

A quick thank you the reply.

“How old… ?” Conversation advances

above and now under, thro’ tunnel

Ground is covered

Thunder clashes as metal meets metal and sighs In and out in and out persons bustle

Ding! Stand clear of the closing doors please.

Voices in harmony telling of desires

Telling of disguises assumed

Shirt and tie, briefcase in hand Observe!

The shoes reveal, true work done

Worn heel and scuffed toe, a trademark

Life on the go!!! Racing, racing from one car to the next

Teens in passing, frequent gestures, obscene

Rouse the sleeping with talk of wicked nights

Engagements left behind, drawling thru weekend tales

Juice drips from ear to ear,

Tales, heard, retained, why the interest?


“Is this uptown?” _________ inquires.


“Okay, thank you,” the reply.

Humming, whistling erupts and

Thunder clashes as metal meets metal and sighs

In and out in and out persons bustle

Next stop:: garble:: unascertainable… garble

Ding! Stand clear of the closing doors please.

Voices in harmony expose life

Hum and bustle meet sigh and son

Ding! Doors welcoming stories when persons exit

When persons enter

Ding! Doors welcoming stories when

“Can you spare a quarter?” meets “That was my foot.”

becomes MTV lyricist lounge squared.  “Hey cutie…”

In search of the digits, to dial for more stories

Ding! Doors welcoming stories when

Babies cry and children ask the question…

“… each candy is $1.00, and if you don’t want candy we will accept donations…”

the love of sport revealed

Ding! Background information placed in the foreground when

Doors welcome as persons exit and persons enter

Thunder clashes as metal meets metal and sighs

In and out in and out persons bustle

Conductor: “Next stop East 177th Street Parkchester.”

Ding! Scurry out and away… and thunder clashes as metal meets metal  

MC: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

HW: As the only girl in a family of six, I started playing sports in Bronx neighborhood parks with my brothers at a young age. I spent my formative years bouncing effortlessly between a private catholic education and the New York City basketball tournament circuit. My parents made it a point to expose my brothers and I to a wide variety of activities and events, all the while encouraging us to form our own tastes and opinions. We were required as children to learn an instrument, a foreign language, and read as many books as possible, submitting handwritten reports to our parents for each one. Receiving educational programs for birthdays and Christmas more often than toys was the norm in our home. The significance of having educators for parents was instrumental to the development of my skill as a writer. The exposure to variety, the attention to which they assisted me in developing as a critical thinker, and the trust and encouragement they both provided when trying new things allowed me to grow and blossom with confidence at a very young age. I received my Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Virginia, my Master of Science from Queens College and have lectured as a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I have attended several professional conferences and served as the New York state chapter president for the American Society of Exercise Physiologists. I self-published my first book entitled The Remedy, in the fall of 2014 and am currently working on three more titles to be released in the latter part of 2015 and early 2016. I believe spirituality, healthy relationships, travel, fresh fruit and regular exercise make life worth living and brighten even the darkest of days.

MC: “Going Home” was a poem prompted by the question of how you learn information about people. What inspired you to write about the specific people you chose to describe?

HW: There was a very real need to present the public, especially all readers who may never ride the subway in New York City, with a complete and accurate portrayal of the city’s straphangers. As it stands, my poem includes representatives from all walks of life and various communities. The subway is a place for commuters, and even the most well-dressed patrons have “subway shoes.” While I allude to this in the lines about the man with the briefcase, the woman who yelps when a panhandler steps on her foot has also been conditioned to either protect her feet and shoes or not wear the ones she truly loves onto the train. In 2015, anyone taking a subway ride will see women board with baby carriages, children asking for donations for sports outings, someone blasting music and kids shouting regardless of whether or not other passengers want to hear their personal business.

MC: Your poem has a quite the interesting backstory. Could you elaborate a little bit how you felt during the process where your work was challenged?

HW: When my professor did not return my paper during class as she handed the others back, I thought it might have been because she lost it. It never occurred to me that she’d thought I cheated until she actually told me. Initially, I was confused. Prior to this, the thought of cheating as a possibility had never even occurred to me, due in no small part to my pride, I’m sure. I didn’t shift from shock to offense until she informed me that she invited her colleagues to search for “the original” with her. Before sending me home, still paperless, she clarified that if it should be discovered I had cheated, I would receive a zero on the paper and an F in her class. She also informed me that further disciplinary action courtesy of the school would be inevitable. I had the option to confess, take a zero and redo my paper to prevent an F or to stand by my work as my own. Full of understanding, and withholding my indignation, I encouraged her to continue her search for as long as it took for her to be convinced with the knowledge that she was spinning her wheels and would come up empty handed. When I got home and informed my parents of the situation, they asked to read the piece. My mom laughed and said I should look at it as a blessing.

MC: Although “Going Home” alludes to this, how do you think your subway experience was informed through the lens of gender?

HW: Gender lenses frame my travel experience in a very traditional manner, though I do not readily identify as a woman who favors traditional gender roles. The presumption, though there was no true threat witnessed, that both the man with loud music and the subsequent “predator” who elected to hit on the woman after she gave up her seat, speaks to this. My delivery and descriptive nouns hint that I am more influenced by the existing social construct of gender roles than I might have previously believed.

MC: Any pointers to give to young women about to move to New York for summer internships and jobs?

HW: Any young woman moving to New York City in the coming months must take care to keenly observe everyone and everything she sees. Navigating a city with such a diverse and booming lifeline becomes increasingly easier once a base level of understanding the people is obtained. I’d also highlight the importance of talking to strangers, but choosing the right ones. It is a lot easier to navigate through the city when enlisting the help of other people should the GPS being utilized ever fail. The right people can be whoever feels like a safe person or group to approach. Asking in a public space is always best. Williams will be sharing her work at a presentation called, “Engendering Rape: A Reading and Discussion with H. Marie Williams and guest Joselyn Spence” during Black Alumni Weekend. Learn more about Williams’ book, cause and journey on her website.

Letter From the Editor