Today is the birthday of the poet C.K. Williams (books by this author), born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and was a therapist for teenagers before beginning his teaching career. He said that his work in therapy helped him realize “that you didn’t have to be afraid of anything that the mind does. Even though you can be thunderstruck at it, at its absurdity and sometimes obscenity, there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of.”
His first book of poems, A Day for Anne Frank, came out in 1968, and 32 years later, he won the Pulitzer with his collection Repair (2000). He published over 20 books of poems, a memoir, two children’s books, and several books of essays. Williams also translated plays by Sophocles and Euripides, and more modern poetry from Polish and French.
In his book On Whitman, Williams wrote about his personal experience reading Leaves of Grass. The two poets are often compared to each other because of their long, sweeping lines. Williams said that if he had to recommend one poet to read, he would say Whitman because “Once you read him, you just knew that poetry had to be something other than what you thought it had been.”
C.K. Williams died at 78 in 2015. Toward the end of his life, he said: “I don’t have to spend so much time mastering my craft, because I pretty much have that under control. But it’s still hard to find the right inspiration and the right voice and the right music to embody the inspiration. That’s the primary business of the poet: to bring the matter and the music together. The best poetry, when you’re reading it, you hear two voices simultaneously — the voice of the poet and your own voice.”