subtle thinking, subtle art


C. K. Williams’s poems are broad in scale and narrow in scope. He has been misunderstood as an entirely “social” poet, but his real subject is the mind that attempts, never entirely successfully, to ward off the social world that bombards it from every side. His lines, longer than those written by any other significant English-language poet, suggest a big, Whitman-like appetite for worldly variety. This is not simply the case. Williams is a poet of imaginative composure amid real-world disarray. His fastidious, refined heart camps in the middle of the worldly misery that minimizes its claims.

To read Williams’s “Collected Poems” (over 680 pages, spanning more than 35 years) is therefore to behold a contest between “poetry” and its system of values and an opposing system, call it “anti-poetry.” Anti-poetry usually gets the first word, as a scan of Williams’s openings reveals:

One of those great, garishly emerald flies that always look
freshly generated from fresh excrement

The only time, I swear, I ever fell more than abstractly in
love with someone else’s wife

Willa Selenfriend likes Paul Peterzell better than she likes me
and I am dying of it.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.