Photo Courtesy of Mary Cross
C. K. Williams is the author of ten books of poetry, the most recent of which is Wait (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010). Collected Poems (FSG, 2007), features the long arc of Williams' career, from the morbid sanguinities of his apprentice work to the careful, moving, stanzaic focus evident in 21 new poems. The Singing won the National Book Award for 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 book of essays, Poetry and Consciousness, appeared in 1998. A prose book entitled Williams, On Whitman, was released in 2010 from Princeton University Press. He was awarded the Twentieth Annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an honor given to an American poet in recognition of extraordinary accomplishment. 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."