C.K. Williams

Poetry and the Iraq War

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The media squashed voices of opposition, says Williams, and those voices are still attempting to be heard.

C.K. Williams

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: We’ll never really know what drove them to have that war. All the reasons that were given we know are lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no terrorist connection between Hussein and terrorism. I think in some ways it was sheer arrogance. It was a sheer belief that if you have power you have to express it where you can express it and I think that that came out pretty clearly. We are the most powerful, we can do whatever we want, this is the next thing we’re going to do, and if Iraq had worked out there would have been a next thing, probably Iran, which they still might try to get away with. So I think there have been everything from psychoanalyzing Bush and his relationship with his father, which, sure, that may have had something to do with it, to Cheney’s-- Cheney obviously just had a sheer thirst, a ravishing-- ravous-- ravenous thirst for the expression of power. He still does. His great illuminating moment a few weeks ago was when someone said, “What about the fact that the American people are so against the war now?” And he said, “So?” That’s really the expression of power. It means I have so much power I don’t have to listen to even the American people. So I think that’s where the war started.