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.
Topic: The Poetic Life
C. K. Williams: The challenge is to do it all the time. The challenge is to sit there, basically, ‘cause there are so many times when you just want to flee. It’s not the life that I would have thought. It’s more difficult in some ways. The actual act of writing is both more difficult and more rewarding. The-- You have sort of states of something like ecstasy in your writing when it goes well, when it goes specially well, and that’s not something you can imagine when you’re first starting out. It certainly wasn’t what happened to me those first few times I wrote poems but then the going on with it is quite hard. There was a period when I renounced it when I was--oh, how old was I--about- right after I published my first book. I-- My life was a mess. I was separating from my then wife and I just decided this life of a poet is killing me, I have to do something else, but I couldn’t. I thought of writing screenplays. I had a friend who was a director in Hollywood and I said, “I want to be a director,” and he said, “That’s impossible but try writing some screenplays.” So I sat down and I started and I found it very boring so I just sat at my desk for a few months really doing nothing but keeping the same hours I did when I was writing poetry, and then I started writing again and I started writing in a new way and it was very exciting. It was actually after my second book, I should say.