C. K. Williams Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In collaboration with classical scholars, C. K. Williams has written verse translations of two Greek tragedies: one, in 1978, of Sophocles’ Trachinai (435-429 b.c.e.; The Women of Trachis, 1729), and the other, in 1985, of Euripides’ Bakchai (405 b.c.e.; The Bacchae, 1781). The translations, as their notes indicate, are for the modern stage as well as for modern readers. Williams hopes for a flowering of the “kernel” of Sophocles’ tragedy within the translator’s historical moment, “a clearing away of some of the accumulations of reverence that confuse the work and the genius who made them.” The translations are thus not staid or literal but do aim for thematic accuracy and life. Williams also translated poems from Issa under the title The Lark, the Thrush, the Starling (1983). He has also translated Selected Poems (1994) of Francis Ponge (with John Montague and Margaret Guiton) and Canvas (1991) of poetry by Adam Zagajewski (with Renata Gorczynski and Benjamin Ivry). Williams published personal and critical essays in Poetry and Consciousness (1998); an award-winning memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself (2000); and On Whitman (2010), an intimate rediscovery of America’s first great poet, Walt Whitman. Williams has also written and cowritten children’s books, such as How the Nobble Was Finally Found (2009; with Stephen Gammell) and A Not Scary Story About Big Scary Things (2010).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

C. K. Williams has received many and various recognitions. Repair won both the Pulitzer Prize (2000) and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry (1999). Other honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Bernard F. Conners Prize for Poetry from Paris Review (1983), the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award (1989), the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award (1992), the PEN/Voelcker Award (1998), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), the Berlin Prize, the Corrington Award for Literary Excellence from Centenary College of Louisiana (2001-2002), and the Pushcart Prize. Flesh and Blood won the National Book Critics Circle Award (1987), and The Singing won the National Book Award (2003). His memoir, Misgivings, won the PEN America Center 2001 Literary Award. In 2005, Williams received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an honor given to acknowledge lifetime achievement.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Chiasson, Dan. “False Consolations.” Review of Collected Poems. The New York Times Book Review, December 24, 2006, p. 15L. Chiasson calls Williams to task for what he sees as Williams’s departure from technical and intellectual subtlety and scrupulous clarity to a sort of hazy middle-class discontent.

Eder, Richard. “A Poet Watches Himself As He Watches the World.” Review of Collected Poems. The New York Times, December 25, 2006, p. E22L. Eder’s review is a balanced assessment of the poet’s body of work, acknowledging the pitfalls of Williams’s tendency to focus so intently on his own experience that it eclipses all else, yet praising Williams’s intelligence and sensitivity, his skill, and the freight of treasure his poems carry.

Hedges, Chris. “Poet Marshals His Moral Passion Against the War.” The New York Times, January 13, 2005, p. B4. Hedges marks Williams’s return to the more overt antiwar stance of his early poetry.

Howard, Richard. Review of The Vigil. Boston Review (Summer, 1997). Although Howard has serious and well-expressed reservations about the formal imposition of an extremely long line, he allows himself to admire those poems and passages in which Williams’s technique works effectively. Howard praises Williams’s successes in...

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