Charles Kenneth Williams is an American poet who started writing poetry at 19, after taking only his required English classes at University of Pennsylvania. He began his career as a poet in the early 1960s. He has published nine books of poetry, beginning with Lies in 1969. Since that time, he has been steadily building his reputation as an innovative and intense poet. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Repair, followed by the National Book Award in 2003 for The Singing, solidified his place as one of the most esteemed living American poets.
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 verbose poems often border on the prosaic, inspiring critics to compare them to Walt Whitman's. The Singing, Williams' most recent collection, 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. 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."
He teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University, and divides his time between Princeton and Paris.
C. K. Williams: :The Singing: “I was walking home down a hill near our house on a balmy afternoon under the blossoms of the pear trees that go flamboyantly mad here every spring with their burgeoning forth when a young man turned in from a corner singing. No. It was more of a cadent shouting most of which I couldn’t catch. I thought because the young man was black, speaking black, it didn’t matter. I could tell he was making his song up, which pleased me. He was nice looking, husky, dressed in some style of big pants, obviously full of himself, hence his lyrical flowing over. We went along in the same direction and he noticed me there almost beside him and “Big” he shouted, sang, “Big,” and I thought how droll to have my height incorporated in his song so I smiled but the face of the young man showed nothing. He looked in fact pointedly away and his song changed. “I’m not a nice person,” he chanted. “I’m not. I’m not a nice person.” No menace was meant I gathered, no particular threat, but he did want to be certain I knew that if my smile implied I conceived of anything like concord between us I should forget it. That’s all. Nothing else happened. His song became indecipherable to me again. He arrived where he was going, a house where a girl in braids waited for him on the porch. That was all. No one saw. No one heard. All of the unasked and unanswered questions were left where they were. It occurred to me to sing back, “I am not a nice person either,” but I couldn’t come up with a tune. Besides, I wouldn’t have meant it nor he had believed it. Both of us knew just where we were and the duet we composed, the equation we made, the conventions to which we were condemned. Sometimes it feels even when no one is there that someone, something, is watching and listening, someone to rectify, redo, remake. This time again though no one saw nor heard. No one was there.”