[Wgcp-whc] reminder--session this Friday 3-5 PM

Richard Deming richard.deming at yale.edu
Wed Oct 9 18:12:09 EDT 2013

Dear Friends,

we will be meeting this Friday (10/11) at 3-5PM in room 116 of the Whitney Humanities Center.  The subject of our discussion will be Writers Writing Dying by C. K Williams.  Williams will then be joining us on Oct 25 to discuss his work.  There are a few photocopies of the text on the shelves of our usual room.  There are also now copies of the hard cover book itself there as well.  I will paste below a useful review of the work that was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Here is a clip of a talk/reading that Williams did as a TED talk presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV_N_eFTaso

Richard Deming, Group Coordinator 


  In a typical C.K. Williams poem, nothing is certain but contempt for certainty. No matter how packed with stuff and stories, a Williams poem not only dramatizes thought, it becomes thought. Any receptive reader -- especially an introspective one -- will recognize the mental acrobatics his speakers put themselves through.

Born Charles Kenneth Williams in 1936, the poet won the 2003 National Book Award for "The Singing" and the Pulitzer Prize three years earlier for "Repair." Terrific as those books are, 1983's "Tar" (especially its astounding title poem) and "Flesh and Blood," winner of the 1987 National Book Critics Circle Award, are the volumes that permanently rearranged our nation's aesthetic furniture.

Using a Walt Whitman- and Allen Ginsberg-inspired long, free-verse line, Williams demonstrated a fresh way of rendering the passion of intellect, the contortions of the psyche and the chaos of emotion.

On the whole, "Writers Writing Dying" is both lighter and more despairing than all Williams' earlier collections. Its 27 poems begin with "Whacked," and its goofy learnedness is new:

Every morning of my life I sit at my desk getting whacked by some great poet or other.

Some Yeats, some Auden, some Herbert or Larkin, and lately a whole tribe of others --

oi!--younger than me. Whack! Wiped out, every day . . . I mean since becoming a poet.

The poem wends its long-lined way to a rueful conclusion, which a less masterly poet would make maudlin:

. . . if I could lie down like a mare giving birth, arm in my own uterine channel to tug out another,

one more, only one more, poor damp little poem, then I'll be happy -- I promise, I swear.

Much of the rage and grief in this collection is directed at the current state of American politics and culture. Long a political poet -- only in the United States does this diminishing label exist -- Williams often bears fierce and damning witness to the pointless horrors in American and European history. Sometimes, however, anger gets the better of craft, as in the flat, cliche reportage in this stanza from "Vile Jelly":

Because the whole state of Texas buys the same book,

the import of their distortions and falsehoods is wide.

The publishers take them into account,

so other states' schoolbooks are dumbed down as well.

But turn to "The Invisible Nuns, Sister John, and the Saint," and you find this excoriation of false piety:

"Venomous, poisonous, endlessly hateful," the Saint howls again,

with his voice, his breath, his strength, his poison, his wrath,

as he sails in his wave-beaten, wave-bitten barque in search

of the Isle of True Faith, where none dwell, as well knows Sister John,

not the "everlastingly chaste," nor the "silken and silver garbed rich."

"Only," she'd cry and accuse "the dark, dire divine of the slum."

At 76, C.K. Williams remains one of our most necessary, vital poets. His work continues to surprise, exalt and instruct in equal, passionate measure. Long may his lines unfurl.  

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