If the voice in our heads that comments on our experiences, our reactions, our feelings, that talks us into our transgressions and later berates us for them, that fears, is ashamed of its fear, that tries to encourage us, then refutes those words of encouragement, that tells us to change, then tells us we never will, that watches us listening to ourselves and comments on its own comments, even doubting the sincerity of its questioning of our sincerity, if that voice were a little smarter, more observant, more determined to see and speak clearly, it might sound something like the speaker in one of C. K. Williams’ poems.
Listen to him read “My Mother’s Lips.”
Often, in Williams’ poems, that inner voice turns outward. What it says to us we might be tempted to call narrative, yet we know it is shaped by something other than storytelling. We might describe it as consciousness finding its own music. There is a feeling of rightness or aptness to the pacing of speech in Williams’ poems. It is not formed out of an attempt to tell a story or recount a memory so much as out of the process of discovering the shape of an experience, or rather, how a mind moves while reflecting on and even reliving an experience. This is something separate from memoir or narrative. This attempt to understand how we understand our own experiences may have been the birth of lyric poetry. At least, it seems to be the origin of many of Williams’ poems.
But, like Fanny Howe, Natasha Trethewey and many of the poets at the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival, Williams writes poems that are not confined to the kind of interiority that seems to ignore the contemporary world. Sometimes cooly objective, sometimes amused or beguiled, sometimes frightened or outraged, the speaker in Williams’ poems is acutely aware of what is happening in society and the world, candidly questioning our relationship to war, politics, injustice, racism and the wide scope of the human potential for compassion and brutality.
As a poet, Williams has sustained this questioning over decades. We can never quite predict what will capture his concern or attention next, and he surprises and challenges us in collection after collection.
Visit the Festival Program pages to see the full range of readings and conversations C. K. Williams will be participating in at the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival.
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For more information on the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
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