The Problem of Themes
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: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what themes I have left to explore. There are so many out there waiting to be explored. My favorite themes vary. They aren’t really favorite themes. They-- They’re sort of compulsive themes. Last year I-- I think obviously a lot about global warming. Anybody who thinks thinks about global warming but last year I found that every poem that I started to write turned out to be a poem for global-- about global warming and that was not a healthy situation. I realized I couldn’t only write about that so I had to forcibly move myself away from that theme back to other themes. Each poem has an essence, a kernel. Every work of art does. Peter Brook, the great theater director, pointed that out, that you can reduce any work of art to one kernel of force. Call it inspiration. And if every poem is trying to use that same kernel, then you’re going to become repetitive and become dull.
Recorded on: 7/3/08
The difficulty of choosing a theme and the problem of sticking with it.