Poet, Argent, in the Red Room: C.K. Williams, SRO, at KGB

NYU Emerging Writers Reading Series, featuring C.K. Williams
KGB Bar, Friday, 22 January 2010

by David St.-Lascaux

Raskolnikov, unrepentent, black milk, the shtetled consonant (repeated) Jew and an icy impression of the gray hibernal river, archetype of Eastern Europe: C.K. Williams closed a January’s Friday at KGB on a chill poetic note.

The evening, NYU Emerging Writers Reading Series, featured readings by NYU graduate students Christopher Baughman, Anelise Chen, Erica Kalnay and Alex Morris. This correspondent was drinking Estrella Galicia in rendezvous with un amigo viejo at ñ on Crosby and thus missed the no-doubt poignant petals strewn by the Violets. Otro día: Lo siento. A shame: the room was packed with fledgling literati and rapt ascoltatori (alas, too young to thrust and parry [pupils dilate, bien sûr] with a silvered vulpine interlocutor).

Reflective, nuanced, Williams read, in measured prosody, about the Marques Luxurious: materialist models of Ferrari, Mercedes, Porsche (which he properly pronounced), contrasting these with his father’s pickup, and, upon his father’s death, his mother’s uncomprehension (at the need for its existence in their lives); the impression one of wistfulness, the passages of flesh and blood, the temporary preservation of memory, of sharing, of a poet with a mellow heart, proving that we need slim volumes dedicated to Galway Kinnell (The Singing [2003], which won the National Book Award; and Repair [2000], winner of the Pulitzer Prize) and to live lives mindful, if in intentional, sought pain.

Williams teaches at Princeton, and as a pedagog (aren’t professors all) he was a perfect poet for his audience. For further reading: In his poignant Beginnings, Williams describes his journey in a way students, especially, might appreciate:

What I remember most about those first days, when I was trying to give myself completely to poetry, is that while I wrote all the time, obsessively, painful, somehow I didn’t really know what to write about.

Age, self-said failures, and awareness of the Holocaust and Civil Rights Movement changed that for him, Williams said, and today,

My poems have a double function for me: they are about consciousness, in a more or less direct way, and they’re involved just as much with the social, moral world with which my consciousness is necessarily concerned.

That may not be completely true. In “On the Metro,” a wily Williams slips the sprightly (I lie) Emil Cioran (he conveyor of such lite concepts as, in the words of a citizen reviewer, “aboulia, aporia, askesis [asceticism], ataraxia, and acedia“) into a jeune fille’s cruel perceived first person flirtation, and plumbs a memory:

a memory – a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean

It’s pointless to follow this with prose. Williams’s new volume, Wait, is slated for release in April 2010. Until then, see him read at TED, “of youth and age,” at this link.

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