Magazine article World Literature Today

Writers Writing Dying

Magazine article World Literature Today

Writers Writing Dying

Article excerpt

C. K. Williams. Writers Writing Dying. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2012. isbn 978- 0374293321

Despite his many accomplishments, including a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, C. K. Williams begins this book humbly, avowing in "Whacked" that "one never is, really, a poet. Or I'm not." Happily, the remainder of Writers Writing Dying proves him wrong.

Ample evidence can be found in Williams's use of his famously long line. Such lines are derived from Whitman, but whereas they are usually written to evoke breathlessly the ecstatic or prophetic tone, as in most of Allen Ginsberg's poems, Williams has fashioned the long line into a surprisingly versatile poetic instrument. Often he uses it to suggest a line of thought worked out by a consciousness in time, as in "Mask": "Didn't Yeats have his file of fake Willies? His Anti-Self, his Cuchulain, his Michael Robartes? / Why couldn't I then? Why was I stranded like the insole of a shoe in this face glued on so tightly?" At other times, he uses the length to suggest persistence, for instance the persistence of sexual desire in "Bianca Burning," in which he says, "The sexual terror lions are roaring into my ears as I make my way between their cages / at the Bertram Mills Circus in England in nineteen fifty-seven when I'm twenty," or the persistence of literary engagement in "Prose," in which we read, "So maybe the novelists do save me, maybe Lawrence and Mann, Dickens and Melville and Greene, / even the landslides of Thomas Wolfe that go through me like castor oil release me from myself. …

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