Poetry Book Society Recommendation
C.K. Williams (1936-2015) was the most challenging American poet of his generation, a poet of intense and searching originality who made lyric sense out of the often brutal realities of everyday life. His poems are startlingly intense anecdotes on love, death, secrets and wayward thought, examining the inner life in precise, daring language.
In Writers Writing Dying, he retained the essential parts of his poetic identity – his candour, his compelling storytelling, the social conscience of his themes – while slyly reinventing himself, re-casting his voice, and in many poems examining the personal – sexual desire, the hubris of youth, the looming spectre of death – more bluntly and bravely than ever.
In 'Prose', he confronts his nineteen-year-old self, who despairs of writing poetry, with the question 'How could anyone know this little?' In a poem of meditation, 'The Day Continues Lovely', he radically expands the scale of his attention: 'Meanwhile cosmos roars on with so many voices we can't hear ourselves think. Galaxy on. Galaxy off. Universe on, but another just behind this one…' Even the poet's own purpose is questioned; in 'Draft 23' he asks, 'Between scribble and slash – are we trying to change the world by changing the words?' With this wildly vibrant collection – by turns funny, moving, and surprising – Williams proved once again that, he had, in Michael Hofmann’s words, 'as much scope and truthfulness as any American poet since Lowell and Berryman'.
‘A voice that has become utterly distinctive: restless, passionate, dogged, and uncompromising in its quest to find and speak the truth…an intelligence both compassionate and fierce…poems that delve into everything from the most joyous and private matters of the heart (he is one of our greatest love poets) to the chaos and horror of politics, warfare, and our species’ seemingly innate penchant for cruelty and self-destruction… Few poets leave behind them a body of work that is global in its ambition and achievement, but C.K. Williams is one of them. His poetry will speak to future generations, as it does to us, of what it was to be human in our time’ – Chase Twichell.
C.K. Williams (1936-2015)
C.K. Williams reads six poems from his Collected Poems. The first poem is his much discussed poem ‘The Dog’ from Tar (1983), and he gives some background comment after this part of the reading. This is followed by ‘Love: Beginnings’, ‘The Singing’, ‘The World’, ‘The Gaffe’ and ‘Cassandra: Iraq’. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Williams reading a selection of his poems during a visit to London in October 2007. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).