C.K. Williams

Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet
National Book Award-winner 

 

“To put it simply, C.K. Williams is a wonderful poet, in the authentic American tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who tells us on every page what it means to be alive in our time.” —Stanley Kunitz

 

“His fearless inventions, with their rangeness of language and big long lines, quest after the entirety of life.” —Robert Pinsky

 

C. K. Williams is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Writers Writing Dying (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012); Wait (2010); and Collected Poems (FSG, 2007), which shows the long arc of Williams' career, from the morbid sanguinities of his apprentice work to the careful, moving, stanzaic focus evident in twenty one new poems. The Singing won the National Book Award in 2003; and his previous book, Repair, was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. His collection Flesh and Blood received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Williams has also published a memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself, in 2000, and has published translations of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, Euripides’ Bacchae, and poems of Francis Ponge, among others. A prose book entitled Williams, On Whitman, was released in 2010 from Princeton University Press. He is also the author of two books of essays: Poetry and Consciousness (1998) and In Time (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Guardian review of Wait

NY Times review of On Whitman

Williams was awarded the Twentieth Annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an honor given to an American poet in recognition of extraordinary accomplishement. Among his honors are awards in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Voelcker Career Achievement Award, and fellowships from the Lila Wallace Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment of the Arts. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003, and teaches in the Writing Program at Princeton University.

Williams started writing poetry when he was nineteen, shortly after taking his last required English class at the University of Pennsylvania. “Poetry didn’t find me, in the cradle or anywhere near it: I found it,” he recalled. “I realized at some point—very late, it’s always seemed—that I needed it, that it served a function for me—or someday would—however unclear that function may have been at first.” Williams found his voice as a poet in the mid-sixties when writing to a magazine editor about the violence directed against civil rights activists. The process of writing this letter opened up a new way of thinking for Williams—a paradigm for writing all of his poetry. The result was “A Day for Anne Frank,” a meditation that linked the civil rights movement with the Holocaust and became the opening poem of his first collection, Lies (1969). “After the Anne Frank poem...I seemed to be able to write poems I wanted to write, in a way that satisfied me, that made the struggle with the matter and form and surface of the poems bearable, and, more to the point, purposeful,” wrote Williams.

Williams is known for his daring formal style, marrying perceptive everyday observations to lines so long that they defy the conventions of lyric poetry. His poems often border on the prosaic, inspiring critics to compare them to Walt Whitman's. Williams began his career as a strong anti-war writer, and in a recent profile in The New York Times stated that he still feels pulled in that direction: "It is always there, but it is more subliminal and is no longer on the surface. I do not want to be dogmatic."

The Singing explores topics surrounding aging: the loss of loved ones, the love of grandchildren, and the struggle to retain memories of childhood even while dealing with the complexity of current events. Of the poems in this collection, John Ashberry wrote, “They are clear about complex things, which one sees as slightly magnified, like pebbles on the bed of a very clear stream. Williams now realizes more than ever that "your truths will seek you, though you still / must construct and comprehend them." He succeeds at this task with a flair that tempers the regret that is the recurring note in these poems, and transforms it into something like joy." Today, Williams is considered one of the most esteemed living American poets.

“The most interesting thing about a poem is that it doesn't exist until it has its music. Every poem has a music. And until it has that, it's not a poem. It's just information or data that's floating around in your head or on your desk.” –C.K. Williams

 

About WRITERS WRITING DYING (Poetry, 2012)
Since his first poetry collection, Lies, C. K. Williams has nurtured an incomparable reputation—as a deeply moral poet, a writer of profound emotion, and a teller of compelling stories. In Writers Writing Dying, he retains the essential parts of his poetic identity—his candor, the drama of his verses, 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 specter of death—more bluntly and bravely than ever.

About IN TIME (Essays, 2012)
In Time begins with six essays that meditate on poetic subjects, from reflections on such forebears as Philip Larkin and Robert Lowell to “A Letter to a Workshop,” in which he considers the work of composing a poem. In the book’s innovative middle section, Williams extracts short essays from interviews into an alphabetized series of reflections on subjects ranging from poetry and politics to personal accounts of his own struggles as an artist. The seven essays of the final section branch into more public concerns, including an essay on Paris as a place of inspiration, “Letter to a German Friend,” which addresses the issue of national guilt, and a concluding essay on aging, into which Williams incorporates three moving new poems. Written in his lucid, powerful, and accessible prose, Williams’s essays are characterized by reasoned and complex judgments and a willingness to confront hard moral questions in both art and politics.

About WAIT (Poetry, 2010)
Wait finds C. K. Williams by turns ruminative, stalked by “the conscience-beast, who harries me,” and “riven by idiot vigor, voracious as the youth I was for whom everything was going too slowly, too slowly.” Poems about animals and rural life are set hard by poems about shrapnel in Iraq and sudden desire on the Paris Métro; grateful invocations of Herbert and Hopkins give way to fierce negotiations with the shades of Coleridge, Dostoevsky, and Celan. What the poems share is their setting in the cool, spacious, spotlit, book-lined place that is Williams’s consciousness, a place whose workings he has rendered for fifty years with inimitable candor and style.

About COLLECTED POEMS (Poetry, 2007)
Collected Poems brings together in one volume C. K. Williams’s work of nearly forty years, enabling readers to follow the career of this great poet through its many phases and reinventions. Here are his confrontational early poems, which bristle with a young idealist’s righteous anger. Here are the roomy, rangy poems of Tar and With Ignorance, in which Williams married the long line of Whitman to a modern’s psychological self-scrutiny; the compact sonnets of Flesh and Blood; and the inward investigations of A Dream of Mind. Here are the incomparable poems from the prize-winning books Repair and The Singing. Here, too, are new poems, in which Williams’s moral vigilance is brought to bear, again, on life during wartime. Collected Poems is the life’s work of a modern master—fiercely intelligent, arresting in its beauty, unforgettable in its echoes and reverberations.