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Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center

Poetry in Performance featuring CK Williams

Saturday, May 7, 2011
4:00 - 6:00

WWBA is pleased to present Walking with Whitman: Poetry in Performance, a series of performances and presentations by some of the most intriguing figures in contemporary literature and the arts on the national scene, paired with respected voices on the regional scene. The series is hosted by Walt Whitman Birthplace Writer in Residence George Wallace.

NYU Professor and noted Walt Whitman scholar, Karen Karbiener will introduce Mr. Williams. 


 Saturday, May 7 (4-6 PM) 

Walt Whitman Birthplace Association 2011 Poet in Residence C.K. Williams

Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet

“To put it simply, C.K. Williams is a wonderful poet, in the authentic American tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who tells us on every page what it means to be alive in our time.” —Stanley Kunitz

“His fearless inventions, with their rangeness of language and big long lines, quest after the entirety of life.” —Robert Pinsky

C. K. Williams is the author of ten books of poetry, the most recent of which is Wait, published in 2010 from FSG. Collected Poems, released in 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 recently awarded the Twentieth Annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an honor given to an American poet in recognition of extraordinary accomplishement. 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."

The Singing explores topics surrounding aging: the loss of loved ones, the love of grandchildren, and the struggle to retain memories of childhood even while dealing with the complexity of current events. Of the poems in this collection, John Ashberry wrote, “They are clear about complex things, which one sees as slightly magnified, like pebbles on the bed of a very clear stream. Williams now realizes more than ever that "your truths will seek you, though you still / must construct and comprehend them." He succeeds at this task with a flair that tempers the regret that is the recurring note in these poems, and transforms it into something like joy." Today, Williams is considered one of the most esteemed living American poets.

“The most interesting thing about a poem is that it doesn't exist until it has its music. Every poem has a music. And until it has that, it's not a poem. It's just information or data that's floating around in your head or on your desk.” –C.K. Williams

*For those attending the poetry master class with C.K. Williams at 1PM on May 7th, admission to the 4 PM reading is free.

Purchase tickets online for the May 7th poetry event featuring C.K. Williams

 The full Walking with Whitman series will take place on the following dates and times:

Sunday, March 6 (1-3 PM): Leslie Bai and Alanna Chan with Annabelle Moseley

Sunday, April 3 (1-3 PM): Bob Holman and Alhaji Papa Susso with Veronica Golos

Saturday, May 7 (4-5 PM): C.K Williams

Saturday, September 3 (7-9 PM): M.L. Liebler with special guest (TBA)

Saturday, October 1 (7-9 PM): Neeli Cherkovski with Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan

Saturday, November 5 (7-9 PM): Hettie Jones with Gladys Henderson

Saturday, December 3 (7-9 PM) Marvin Bell with Gayl Teller

Series tickets may also be purchase in advance: $70. for 7 events. (A $5. per ticket savings).

Purchase tickets for the full series of 7 readings