Chicago, IL | March 2, 2012

Episode 65: PSA Presents: A Reading and Conversation with C.K. Williams

(Alice Quinn, C.K. Williams) A reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams, followed by an interview with Poetry Society of America Executive Director, Alice Quinn.

Published Date: July 17, 2013


Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2012 A W P conference in Chicago. The recording features a reading by Pulitzer Prize winning poet CK Williams, followed by an interview with Poetry Society of America's executive director Alice Quinn.

Speaker 2 (00:28):

Good afternoon. My name is Christian Teresa. I am the director of conferences for a W p. Welcome to Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:43):

Welcome to a reading and conversation with CK Williams. I'm really delighted and happy to be sharing this event with you and thanks so much to the partnership with the Poetry Society of America for bringing this event together for us. We really appreciate that. Just a few notes before we begin. Please turn off your cell phones. Additionally, in the back of the room after the reading, there will be sales of books and a book signing. And lastly, for the first time ever, a w p started doing individual event surveys. So please log on to awp and let us know about what you think about the various events you've been attending. We'd appreciate it. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce the executive director of Poetry Society of America, Alice Quinn,

Speaker 3 (01:49):

CK Williams. He has won the Pulitzer Prize in the National Book Award. He's written 18 books of poems, a memoir titled Misgivings, a book of essays called Poetry and Consciousness. And he's translated the work of Soles and Uri and with others, Adam Zaki and Francis pge. John Ashbury has this to save one of his recent collections and I think it can suffice to introduce this exemplary poet whose poems used to tear into my day at the New Yorker and light up my day with their abundant, palpable evidence of consciousness, pursuing meaning and beauty, pacing and marking. What he describes in his poem wasp, that invisible barrier between you and the world, between you and your truth. So here's John Ashbury praising Charlie's collection. The singing Williams now realizes more than ever that your truths will seek you, though you still must construct and comprehend them. He succeeds at this task with a flare that tempers the regret, that is the recurring note in those poems and transforms it into something like Joy. Please welcome CK Williams.

Speaker 4 (03:20):

I am going to read poems. All new poems are all new relatively from my new book, which is coming out in the fall. The book is called Writer's Writing Dying, which is either three nouns or something else. There's a lot of references in the pumps to writers and poets. When I go to universities, I explain who they are, but with this group I don't think I have to explain anything whacked.

Speaker 4 (03:52):

Every morning of my life I sit at my desk getting whacked by some great poet or other, some Yates, some Auden, some Herbert or Larkin, and lately a whole tribe of others, oy younger than me, whack, wiped out every day. I mean since becoming a poet, I mean wanting to one never is really a poet or I'm not. When I'm trying to write though, then comes a line, maybe another, but still pops up again. Yates say, and again, whacked Wait, old brain in my head I'd forgotten that whacked and crime movies means murdered, rubbed out by the mob little. The mob guys would think that poets could do it, and who'd believed that Instead of running away, you'd find yourself fleeing towards them. Some sweet seeming bishop who's sang so, so so but whack. You're stampeding again through her poems like a Mustang whack so hard that you bash the already broken crown of your head on the roof of your stall. What a relief for a while to read some bad poems.

Speaker 4 (05:01):

Still, I try not to bad whack list poems can hurt. You can say you're all right when you're not can condone your poet coward who compulsively asks if you're all right. Am I all right? Not wasting your time. Am I wasting time though you know are wasting time if you're not being whacked? Bad poems let you off that the confessional mode. Now I've read res, I've written as many meanwhile this morning, this very moment I'm thinking of George Herbert composing. I see him by himself in some candlelit chamber, unbearably, lonely to us, but glorious to him and he's hunched over scribbling, scribbling and the room filling with poems whacking at me and Herbert's not even paying attention as the huge tide of them rises and engulfs me in warm tangles of musical down as from the breast of the requiring dawn, tangling larks, lovely enchanting language, sugar cane whack, the sweet strains, the lulling, oh whack Lowell or Keets, RCA or Wordsworth or Wyatt whack. 50 years of it, old race horse plug hauling. Its jug. Isn't it Time to be put out to pasture, but I'd still, if I could lie down like a marere giving birth arm in my own uterine channel to tug out another one more, only one more poor damp little poem, then I'll be happy. I promise. I swear.

Speaker 4 (06:48):

This poem is called a hundred Bones. It has an epigraph from a great quotation of by bacho. This is just a piece of it. He's describing himself in his life. In this mortal frame of mind, which consists of a hundred bones and nine orifices, there is something, and this something can be called for lack of a better name, a wind swept spirit, a hundred bones. Some of the I should explain in this, there's some reference to different airplanes from the second World War, Thunderbirds, thunderbolts, Corsairs. You'll hear it. I know some of you weren't around in the second World War were things

Speaker 4 (07:31):

A hundred bones and this thus the a hundred bones of my body plus various apertures plus that thing I don't know yet to call spirit are all a quake with joyous awe. The shriek of the fighter planes that from their base at Port Newark Swoop and their practice runs so low over our building that the walls tremble Wildcats. They're called thunderbolts or corsairs and they're practicing strafing, which in war means your machine guns are going like mad as you dive down on the enemy, soldiers and other bad people nips CROs trying to run out from under your wings. Your bullet pops leaping after their feet. It's a new word for us. Strafing. We learn others too. Blockbusters, for instance, which means bombs that smash down your whole block, not our block. Some nip block or Nazi, some gray block in the newsreel. B 24 is the number of my favorite bomber.

Speaker 4 (08:36):

The liberator, my best fighter lightning. The other kind of lightning once crashed on an eve of our building and my mother cried out and swept me up in her arms. The war is here. She must have thought the war has found me all her life. I think she was thinking the war is here. The war has found me. Some words we don't know yet. Gas chamber napal, children our age in 1944, say my friend Arnold and I who are discussing how will torture our treacherous enemy, friends who've gone off to a ball game without us, they're like enemies, Jas or nips. So of course torture do children of all places and times speak so passionately and knowledgeably about torture. Our imaginations are small though Arnolds and mine tear out their nails burn their eyes, drive icicles in their ears so there's no evidence of your having done it except that they're dead.

Speaker 4 (09:41):

Then it was Arnold who died. He was a doctor out west. He'd learned to fly piper cubs and he flew out to help Navajo women have babies. He'd become a good man then he was dead. But right now victory, V-day clouds like giant ice creams over the evil Japanese empire. Cities are burning. Some Japanese cities aren't even there. The war is here. The war has found me. Japanese poets come later. We don't know we need them until they're already buffing the lens. Ba isa buson, especially Basho, that wind swept spirit that hardly there. Frog Adam bomb though basho as shadow burned into asphalt house torn by mad burning wind poets and coats of straw burning. What is our flaw? We human beings, what is our error? Spikes in your tushy ice in your brain that frog and visibly waiting forever to make its leap exhaust.

Speaker 4 (11:12):

My grandson wants a Ferrari. I buy one for him. Why not the second of Mercedes, the third of Porsche? Why not how things change? My grandfather wanted only to pickup one IIC Rochester night the year before I was born, he skidded through a gate in and plowed head on into a train. My grandson's cars cost a dollar part of a vast collection of racers, convertibles, trucks, even antiques. From the time I had my first car, a five year old ungainly green Chevy, not like Lowell's father. Spanking new one with gilded hoofs wrote Lowell and slashing Lee, his best friend. I treasured my Chevy though it plotted compared with a friend's olds that sped us one New Year's Eve after the parties down the parkway at 110. My grandfather, I gather was vain of his truck and his driving, but my grandmother would grumble. He was a terrible driver.

Speaker 4 (12:24):

We were good drivers. We thought we were certain better than good. Didn't we all but live in our cars wasn't the best part even of a date when you made out with your girlfriend in back right now hitting a hundred. Don't we love each other for how our tires are glued to the pavement and life has no end? I hadn't seen Warhol's print yet of mangled teenagers spilled from their wreck. I didn't see much then beyond cars like my grandsons who know every make model top speed and zero to 60 by heart and who squabble because one has stolen another's X something or other. My grandfather was a socialist when that word still could be used. He even ran for state senate though not surprisingly lost. He was hardly well off with a store that sold candy and papers and why he needed that broken down truck.

Speaker 4 (13:22):

My grandmother still complained on her deathbed was a mystery to her. The first time I was almost killed in a car, an axle sheared our back wheel bounced past us. We spun out of control over a busy highway and pulled up a yard from a tree much like the tree in the photo of the death of Camou with his publisher sports car gruesomely wrapped around it. Such a short time between my automobile madness and my rapture reading Camou Sisyphus telling me why suicide wasn't the root though at the time it could seem so. What did he say exactly? I don't think there was much about love, which would be my reason now. Love family, poetry, art. I sometimes imagine my Chevy was devoted to me like a dog that was before death arrived mine and everyone else's and Secant father died in a car. Dear Ann made certain to two Paul Zeal Nathaniel West Tom mix for God's sakes me nearly four times and my grandfather Charles Caden, whom I just realized now I miss and whom if I'd been there I know I could have saved, pumped the brakes gently I tell him and we'd glide up to the rails and wait in the beautiful snow he'd offer some wisdom to hand on to my grandsons.

Speaker 4 (15:01):

The train clattering by us, the mingling steam of our breath, change of tone. Vile jelly.

Speaker 4 (15:24):

I see they're tidying. The Texas textbooks again, chopping them down to make little minds stay the right size for the preachers not to be vexed as they troll for converts or congregants or whatever. Troll as in fish for men as in for Christ. Here's a fissure, a pre biblical king on a slab captives the king with a not sharp spear is blinding. The first thrusting then twisting it into the riving man's eye. Subtle carvers, they were. You see the thrust and the twist. How the hook, the fish hook driven through the lip of the victim to keep him from inconveniently struggling and attached to a rope. Tugs the lip out from the teeth because the whole state of Texas buys the same book. The import of their distortions and falsehoods is wide. The publishers take them into account. So other states textbooks are dumbed down as well.

Speaker 4 (16:32):

Who said with my eyes closed? I see more, not me who said I study not to learn, but hoping what I've learned might not be true. Not me. Again, I stay still. I peek wly out the door of my stove. That's a story about seeing not having to see a fairytale with your usual prints this time in a stove. It doesn't say why he's there even after he's saved by your usual virgin. The scholars don't explain either. My theory is he locked himself in welded the lid because of all he could no longer bear to behold Texas textbooks, for instance, chunks of knowledge extracted like eyes discarded thrown on the floor. Evolution, needless to say, sociology, Jefferson deism, all these complications henceforth won't vex, they'll be scraped from the mold. No longer be seen as so much in the world is no longer seen as well.

Speaker 4 (17:43):

Will the eyes of conscience also be punctured, spilled, vile. It's called in king there vile jelly out chips of blank Dickinson wrote in a warp poem, chips of blank in boyish eyes. Is that still in the books? Is the king on the slab with his spear and rope, but that was before Christ rose into his own stove. The noise of mankind. Another God grouse this too loud. They keep me awake, rid me of them. The underling angels began boiling the acid. But thanks be someone had learned how to write. An inscription appeared on a roof. Please, it pled to the prickly deity don't and the almighty yawning after for once a good nap decided to let us do it unto ourselves, which were rushing to do as quick as we can by making the mysteries holy and blank by chopping eyes from susceptible minds to keep them from crying. Heart tears thou viles jelly herds of children go bleeding into the dark. Oh, vile thou chips of thou boyish eyes. Thou wear one out

Speaker 4 (19:29):

Haste. Not so fast. People were always telling me, slow down, take your time. Teachers, coaches, the guy who taught me to ride stop cowboying. He'd shout as if that wasn't the point, but the admonition that stuck was the whisper. That girl, that woman that smudged now dear girl woman, legs so tightly wound round me side young as she was to my ear. Ah, the celestial contraption we made though no matter how you swerved it, held it together, why not go faster? But she with her fluttery, guttural, slower, go slower, knew better, knew better. No one says not so fast now, not when I hold her, not our dog. As I putter behind her. Yet everything past, future present rushes so quickly through me. I frayed like a flag. Unbuckle your spurs life. Don't you know up ahead where the road ends. There's an abyss, no room for galloping anymore here. Surely by now you know better know better

Speaker 4 (20:56):

Mask. Nobody had to tell me in the monster movie to hide my eyes and not look it hurt to be frightened. You can't not look later though in the movie of mind that sex theater inside you, that thug, I'd think inside I must be an evil person, didn't I? Lust, wouldn't I be if I could that big belied thug or was it rather I must be inside an evil person. These famished eyes, these insatiable staring out. No surprise I decide I'd need a mask to live in a disguise to conceal the monster. I was certain I was not the lone rangers. I knew that cheating muslin from Halloween. I needed a real mask. No matter Santana warning, a mask is not responsive. You must not speak to it or kiss it. No matter holderman's doctor inventing a mask for his tormented patience so they couldn't scream.

Speaker 4 (22:05):

Didn't Yates have his file of fake willies his anti self, his coco and his Michael Robbar? Why couldn't I then why was I stranded like the insole of a shoe in this face glued on so tightly, yet when I'd borrow mass, nothing ever quite fit and soon they'd become shapeless and stink. Better the semblance I thought with no conscience or name that takes any impress like free verse, but within that face with silence then sound too much of one then too much of the other. Grinding together like years, they extruded a wobbly always weirdly wrong word, gl years pass love. No love at last arrives. Dr. Freud, who opens your face so you can look in desire, terror and rage. Twine, riving together and Eid consoles. Freud, call it your Eid. So there you are, the inside of your psyche, riven with scar waiting to heal.

Speaker 4 (23:12):

Knit become true. But hadn't we already died waiting? Weren't we scattered like crumbs through the Pleistocene forest for Hansel and Gretel to gather and hand on to Marx who proclaimed the face itself was the veil beaten, capitalist gold, cunning and trancing and chanting like the death mask of Nan old age, then skull in the mirror with jowls and hair in its ears arriving without your permission, this iron mask, the simulacrum gland, boring, unsexy, locked to you like a chastity belt. How it barely cracks smiles. How it moons dull fully back at you like your dog, how it can't lie. Old rocky face, crumbling, eroding, unmasked, lonely ranger and this time no covering your eyes. This is a poem that wasn't written for the A w P conference, but possibly could have been. It's called Draft 23

Speaker 4 (24:34):

East, vast American Flag, Whitman, sunrise West, Jeffers, Rome, Searchlight, scissoring, the dusk between squads, platoons, divisions of poets, scribbling, slashing, revising, correcting, rejecting. What scribble are we trying to do? What have we done? What a imagine slash when we began this north geometrical, frosty and ice storms, south Neruda diamonds scorching the corra, the voice dulls box desires only to give itself over as it once seemed to the swells, surges concussions, not this compulsion to retune the un malleable self music even in bliss were condemned to that way. R's washed out, interrupted raw places. This Elliot's fragments I have assured between we scribble and slash are we trying to change the world by changing the words, delete, malice, oppression, tyranny, poverty, cruelty by our rage, our raging obsession to amend innocent scribble. Innocent slash who More credulous than we who more rly harmless. Are there songs of the soul yet unsung to calm our doubt and despair? Will we have to revise them? Oh, cut the sweet apple and share it. Sweet scribble sweet slash oh. Write the poem sweetly and share it poem for myself for my birthday. I won't say the number because it's too disturbing.

Speaker 4 (26:44):

It is coming at me again. Damn. Like that elephant with its scooting ears charging in Uganda. We were okay we thought in our rover. So it was a nice mix of scary and thrilling plus a story to tell that be myth. Wow. Snorting a few yards off in the bush, waving his huge crushing tusks, then rushing out at us at bus like my birthday, like thinking of birthdays. This one the next to last and ouch, the last all stampeding towards me like that. Most likely Ill outlaw ponderous looking but so fast on his feet. You can't even dream of dancing out of the way, out of the step on the gas. Okay, we're out of there. Safe. Wait though I'm not safe this time. My birthday's a tractor trailer, skidding sideways on ice and I'm noodling by on my bike, my darling old rally and the whole frames pretzel around me.

Speaker 4 (27:47):

Happy birthday. Oh please. My last happy was that first one with a party gooey brown cake and four beautiful candles and they're singing to me even now it seems worth having lost one of my not enough years. I love being sung to and how not love that song, especially to you to be you in a song. Now I'm often you to myself. You selfish bastard, your indolent slug. When did that happen? I see the Dalai Lama's birthdays here too. In his photo he pumps a treadmill like a prayer wheel and proclaims boasts admits. I visualize my death every day. I wonder if he's you to himself. Speaking of visualization, Yosh Glatstein has a poem for my 200th birthday where he talks of words with friends in the garden, then makes love to his soft, obedient maid, unquote very sweet nostalgia for the future ingenious device when your presence all but used up, but forget the ug of future.

Speaker 4 (29:00):

I can't even get the past rate. Everything peeps popping up change. It's like being not in being one of those movies that starts with a flash forward. Then poof, the plots rushed ahead and you're still back where you began and way out here near the end. Did Glatstein's wife ever forgive him? That succulent poem made Katrine would go crazy. No problem for the celibate Dalai Lama though though I bet there'd been enough maids he could have well slept with the way Gandhi slept with young girls when he was old to keep warm. He as did King David. All those thank you notes to be written, those apology calls you liar or you cheat. Happy birthday to me, Dalai Lama and me by now that pure elephants probably dead to him too. Happy birthday. Then me spinning by on my bike singing to you O to you. I will mention this, that the last line of the poem is from Thomas Wyatt

Speaker 4 (30:32):

Salt. A bashing eerie that just because I'm here on the long, low tide beach of age with briny time licking insidious eddies over my toes, they'd rise in me those mad weeks a lifetime ago when I had two lovers, one who soaked herself so in Chanel that before I went back to the other, I'd scrub with fistfuls of salt and not only would the stink be vanquished, but I'd feel shame. Shriven pure, which thinking about is a joke, how not acknowledge obsolete notion or know that I was a cad. Luckily though I've hung onto my Cornell box of ness with its 10,000 compartments. So there's a place for those miniature mountains of salt each with its code tag of amnesia, and also for the flock of Donnas and Ednas and Annies, a resplendent feather from each and though from the times I was not only crass, stupid and selfish, but thoughtless art, word for shitty, their beaks open.

Speaker 4 (31:39):

Now not to berate, but sero phonically warble forgiveness, such an engrossing contrivance up near a corner in tinsel. My memory moon, still glowing, still cruel because of the misery it magnified the times I was abandoned. They flee. Oh, they flee. I had Abra myself then not with salt, but ano pest. I ams and jams and here they still are burned in an ink. But here too dead center. Catherine with her hand car frame and a frame like the hero in westerns who arrives just in time to rescue the town. She galloped up to save me. Well, I suppose soon the lid with its unpickable latch will come down, but the top I hope will be glass, see-through like Cornell's. So I'll watch myself for a while, bonging around like a pinball, still loving this flipper thing life that so surprisingly canid me up from oblivion ramp and to which I learned to sing in my own voice. But sometimes thanks be in the voice of others, which is why I can crew now my Luke be still and why I can cry for I have done.

Speaker 4 (33:11):

Take a breath. These are all pumps that are new relatively. It's fun to read new poems. Goalie Canal has the habit of reading poems that are about an hour old. It's true. And whenever I would go to readings with him, I would just sit terrified because often he would lose his place and lose the paper. But he really wanted you to hear his new poems. So that's what I'm doing. The day continues lovely with fear and trembling. I studied my ard with sickness unto death. I contemplated with him my spiritual shortcomings and it didn't occur to me until now. Then in the Kiko guard I've read, he never takes time to actually pray odd. This isn't to question his faith who dare, but his well agenda, all those intricate paradoxes of belief, he devotes his time to untying retying. Can it be that Kegar simply forgets to pray?

Speaker 4 (34:16):

He's so busy untying, retying, I understand that I have times I forget to remember, I can't pray camp, pray this June morning just after sparkling daybreak and here I'm not praying my three grandsons asleep on their mats on the floor of my study shining all three more golden than gold and I'm still not praying. Why aren't I even our dog windy, sprawled beside Turner, the youngest Turner's sleep curled fist on her back. Why haven't I prayed about them? I can imagine someday something inside me saying, well, why don't you something inside me as though suddenly would be something inside me. There's a boober story I'm probably misrepresenting that touches on this. A rabbi spends endless hours deciding whether to do good deeds or pray he thinks for this verse than that this might be good. Maybe that would be better. And suddenly a voice that can only be God's erupts stop dawling and God, he thinks he's been chastised by God. Stop dawling. And what happens then in my auntie booing of the tale, everything's lost. The fools had his moment with God. Even Moses had only how many and he squandered it because all he could do was stand stunned, mouth hung, metaphorically open, losing his chance to ask for guidance, but he'd vacillate it again. And what happens now? He wonders in anguish, maybe I should get out of this business, find a teaching job, write a book on my desolation, my suffering. Then he hears again louder.

Speaker 4 (36:13):

But this time it's his own voice hopelessly loud and he knows he'll forever be in this waiting this without God, his glimpse of the undeniable already waning. And what about me Leave aside ki buber, the rabbis just me. I spent my life trying to make my mind up about something. God, not God's soul, not soul. I'm like the binary kid on, off, off, on. But isn't that what we all are? Overgrown electrical circuits, good, bad hate, love. We go crazy trying to gap the space between on and off, but there is none. Click, click left, right? Humans kill one another because there's no room to maneuver inside those minuscule switches. Meanwhile, cosmos roars on with so many voices we can't hear ourselves. Think galaxy on, galaxy off, universe on. But another, just behind this one, one more out front waiting for us to be done. They're flowing across us sweet swamps of being and we thrash in them, waving our futile antenna. Turner's awake. Now he smiles, stands windy, yawns and stands too. They come to see what I'm doing. Turner leans his head on my shoulder to peak. What am I doing thinking of ard, thinking of beauty, thinking of prayer.

Speaker 4 (38:06):

This is the title poem. Writers writing, dying

Speaker 4 (38:13):

Many I could name but won't who'd have been furious to die while they were sleeping, but did outrageous. They'd have lamented and never forgiven the death they'd construed for themselves. Being stolen so rudely, so crudely without feeling themselves like rubber gloves, stickily stripped from the innerness they'd contrived to for so long all of it gone, squandered, wasted on what? Death. Crushingly. Boring. As long as you're able to think it and write it, think, write, write, think. Just keep galloping faster and you won't even notice you're dead. The hard things when you're not thinking or writing. And as far as you know, you are dead or might as well be with no word for yourself. Just that suction shush like a heart pump or straw in a milkshake and death, which once wanted only to be sung back to sleep with. Its tired. Old fangs has me in its mouth.

Speaker 4 (39:14):

And where the hell are you? That chunk of dying we used to call muse. Well, dead or not at least there was that dream of some scribbler, some thinking right person. And maybe it was yourself soaring in this void. And not only that, you were holding a banjo and gleefully strumming and singing. Jaw swung a bit under and off to the side the way crazily happily people will do it. Singing songs or not even songs, just lolly molly syllable sounds. And you'd escaped even from language, from having to gab from having to write down the idiot gab. But in the meantime, isn't this what it is to be dead with that Emily fly buzzing over your sout that you're singing almost as she did. So what matter if you died in your sleep or rushed toward dying like the Sylvia Hart part of the tribe who sees too quickly to be and left out some stances. You're still a loft with your banjos banjo. And if you're dead or asleep, who really caress such fun to wake up though. Such fun too. If you don't keep dying, keep writing it down. Thank you.

Speaker 3 (41:01):

I always feel when I read a poem of Charlie's that I love that he sort of answers to two of my favorite formulations of Robert Frost that a poem should be like ice on a hot stove. It should ride on its own melting. And the other one is everything written is as good as it is dramatic, always so interested in where you go, where you end up. Sometimes there are allegories and a lot of these poems and weight, they're of parallel stories, the girl in the metro and the dogs. But I think I've kind of followed your career since Jonathan glossy published tar in 1983. 83.

Speaker 4 (41:51):

Can you hear me? Am I off?

Speaker 3 (41:53):

I feel these decades of this huge achievement and of this movement in your career, and I wonder whether you could comment on the movement from the long line to the short line to the long line and back again.

Speaker 4 (42:13):

I've commented on that so many times that I forget the answer

Speaker 3 (42:19):

Because of I don't

Speaker 4 (42:20):

Tend to think of it as anymore as the long or short line. It's the different kinds of musics that I've generated with the longer line and shorter line. And over the years I've become more and more conscious of the essentiality of music, of the music, of poetry, the inescapable of it, and the difficulty of it. So that almost all, not all, but I would say almost all of the labor that's involved in a poem is trying to find the right music for your inspiration. Can we still use that word for your impetus? Anyway? And so that's been more of the trend I followed. There are times when I've taken the music as close to prose as possible without it being prose. And then there are times when I've taken it very far into just the sound, almost the meaningless sound of the syllables. That's what I hear more than the meaning of the poem. And well,

Speaker 3 (43:46):

So often I think many of us think that the real field of the poem is the line and then the sentence, but somewhere you said that you felt the best description of your musical unit was the weighted phrase.

Speaker 4 (44:02):


Speaker 3 (44:02):

Said that. Yeah. And I think I can feel that when I read you.

Speaker 4 (44:08):

That's interesting. Everything is in phrases of course. I mean that's the way we move through languages in phrases.

Speaker 4 (44:17):

I've also been from about the time of with ignorance and tar, I became very interested in syntax and the release of information through syntax. That's really what syntax is. It's the ordering of information in a sentence. And once I realized that, I became quite fascinated by it. And trying to figure out almost rationally though you rarely, rightly rationally, but somewhat systematically about how you could order the syntax. So there's a poem in tar, my mother's lips, and the whole first stanza is one, it's think eight lines or six lines, long lines. And it's one sentence. When I got that, I realized that I had really gotten onto something and it made me much more conscious of syntax. And you could say that in a way there's a dramatic syntax as well. Any work of art has a kind of syntax. If you look at a painting, a painter will draw your eye around the painting in a certain order that you can describe as a syntax. And sometimes they start with the, if it's a portrait, sometimes they'll start with the most dramatic event, which is the eyes. And that's the first thing you look at, which we tend to anyway. But then how does he order? How does he or she order you moving through the painting or how does a novelist order the moving through a narrative can also be described as syntactical. So that became in a way more that and music became the two determinants more than actually the length of the lawn. Or

Speaker 3 (46:13):

You're also a great admirer of George Herbert and his syntaxes. So if you think of redemption straight, your suit is granted said and died. Just those little reversals.

Speaker 4 (46:26):

He's the master.

Speaker 3 (46:28):

There's a book that Knauf published of the teacher Pearl London's classes at the New School. And I went to a lot of these classes. I may have gone to one of yours. I certainly went to Galway and to Amy Clampett. And these tapes were found of her classes after she died. And she was a vice president at the P S A. I liked her. She was hugely intense. And eon gran said going to Pearl London's class was being ized, being Holland or ized or something. But anyhow, you said a lot of wonderful things in her class.

Speaker 4 (47:01):

This is in my youth, everybody. I'm not responsible for what she's going to say. Well,

Speaker 3 (47:07):

No, what you said was what you were talking, I think you quoted Andre Brink, the South African novelist to saying it's the poet's job to be the moral witness. And in this class you said, what interests me now is the witnessing of interior events. And I feel that you've been doing that really for the last 20 years. And in this book, it's this wonderful poem about a gaff that you made as a child to the brother of a boy who just died. And it begins, if that's someone who's me, yet not me yet who judges me is always with me as he is. And then a little later in the poem, I'm a child then yet already I've composed this conscience beast who harries me. And I feel that it's a very, very strong presence. A motor in your work is this conscience beast? I mean, the tone of it may change and sometimes it's more humorous and it makes me think of the Dickinson essential oils or rung. The atar of the rose is not expressed by sons alone. It is the gift of screws. And I think you were in that class, you talked a lot about a certain kind of pain and feeling at a certain point that you had too much energy to be a poet, that it was destroying your life.

Speaker 4 (48:34):

That was actually a while before that. My second book was a sort of scream of rage about the Vietnam War and the Civil rights movement. And I think my unconscious thrust, my unconscious program was to change the world. And after that came out and vanished as books of poetry tend to, I realized the world had not yet changed. So perhaps I should start changing in some way. And I did quite consciously then take the rage and put it farther down into the layers of meaning of the poem I was interviewing. Someone interviewed me yesterday and I spoke about that, about, I put it into sort of the unconscious of the poem so that any sense of polemic or directiveness would not be there. And it was about that time that I think I was interviewed by Pearl

Speaker 3 (49:42):

88 or so

Speaker 4 (49:43):

Later. Well, no, I think it was before that, bit later, A little bit before. I'm not sure that's what I thought. But anyway, I may have been, speaking of back to that time when I actually did give up poetry, I thought I also had a post book crash, which I hadn't had yet. And I didn't realize what an awful phenomenon that is. I thought it was all my fault, so I better change my life. So I thought I would give up poetry, become a film director. I thought if you're a film director, you've got to use a lot of energy. You've got to move all these people around. So I had a friend in Hollywood who was a film director sort of journeyman, and he said, well write a film script. And so I started to, and I was terribly bored. So then I just sat for a few months at my desk, feels like without ever moving and then began to write again. That's when I began to write in the

Speaker 3 (50:43):

Long lines. In the long lines. Yeah. Well another wonderful thing you said there was, this speaks to the music you were mentioning referring to the rhythm of the poem Moves the mind and rhythm generates meaning. That's one of the splendors of poetry, that it moves the reader's mind in a way. It wouldn't move by itself. Maybe that's why we need poetry. And I always used to feel when people would say, well, how do you decide on a poem that it's a successful poem? And I always feel it's because I've had an experience that nothing but a poem can give me. It's not the same experiences as going to a concert or going to the ballet and you're inwardly shifted in somewhat taken somewhere where the poem wants to take you.

Speaker 4 (51:35):

It's interesting in thinking of this conference and of all the different minds and voices that are represented here or that people here are enacting with themselves about how there is a sort of common music that floats in the language over poetry as well. So even though when you're in it, you can't necessarily hear it. When you look back on times, you realize that some of the things you felt had to do with your individual voice in fact had been given to you by the voice of your time. And I think that's what whacked really is about, that poem. It keeps coming and it feels like an attack, but it's actually shaping you and aiding you. And I think that's really crucial too, that you have to realize and take advantage of the fact that there is this common or several in American poetry because we're such a huge culture. I think in all my life, at any given moment in my poetry life, there have been three or four different language musics sort of moving through the space of poetry and sometimes I would feel myself attached to one and sometimes to others and being,

Speaker 3 (53:01):

I think we all feel your kinship with Galway and a kinship with maybe pun

Speaker 4 (53:07):

No, not with pun. I, I've been influenced by so many poets that I don't even really feel like I can name them. It's been, I feel like I've been an eternal student being carried along by these great poets my whole life

Speaker 3 (53:26):

And especially the Polish poets too have meant a great

Speaker 4 (53:28):

Poet. Some Polish poets. Yeah, some.

Speaker 3 (53:33):

And there's something else you said about the line that I thought was wonderful. The important thing was that I could do what I wanted with the line that it becomes absorbed in the subject.

Speaker 4 (53:47):

All these interesting things I said

Speaker 3 (53:51):

Anyhow, I didn't know I

Speaker 4 (53:52):

Was so smart then I thought I had just got smart. It was

Speaker 3 (53:55):

A good class. That's the thing it was for, it was a real good class. I wondered whether you could read the poem called Fish. Fish because I'm so fascinated by the way that poem ends really, and I would like you to talk about it.

Speaker 4 (54:16):

I thought I have sexy poem in here and I thought that was the one she was going to ask.

Speaker 3 (54:21):

Well, you could we. That's the other poem I was going to ask you to read. So why don't you read that one too was back. Oh, okay.

Speaker 4 (54:29):

Fish on the sidewalk in front of a hairdresser's supply store lay the head of a fish, largest pointy, perhaps a pikes. It must recently had been left there. Its scales shone and its visible eye had enough light left in it, so it looked as they will for a while. Astonished and consolate to have been brought to such a pass. Its incision was clean, brutal, precise. It had to have come in one blow in the showcase window behind other heads, men's and women's were be rigged. Painstakingly cloth stared out as though at the fish as though stunned. Aghast too, though they were hardly surprised, hadn't they known all along that life, that frenzy, that folly, that flesh thing would come sooner or later to this. It hurts life just as much as it might and it ends always like this better stay here with eyes of glass like people in advertisements and without bodies or blood, like people in poems. Shall I read the sexy one?

Speaker 3 (55:55):

Would you say something about people in poems? I think that's a perfect ending to that.

Speaker 4 (56:06):

People in poems. People in poems are just words. It's very ironic. Of course. It's sort of making fun of oneself. Now I don't seem to be able to find my sex pope. It must be something to do with my unconscious. Say just shut up. I was going to read a few poems from this book actually, just so I could read this one. I really get a kick out of it.

Speaker 4 (56:39):

Let's go back. First I did my thing to say her thing to her for her. Then she did her thing. I mean, my thing to me for me. Then we did our thing together. Then again the other way though, then once more that way again. Then we were done and we were at dinner. Though I desperately miss the other things now and said, so I can't enjoy anything else now and still love tipsy love stunned ever. I said I'll never enjoy anything else ever again. Except I also meant this. I'm in this being together thinking of that or not even her thinking. Who knows what she's thinking? I mean me thinking of, of her thinking and thinking, but now that I've told her, told you, are we then back to again that and yes, thank goodness I'm back there. We're back there. I missed you out here by myself even thinking of that, which is why I had to do all this thinking to take us even in such a partial way back.

Speaker 5 (57:49):

Fantastic. Can we end there? Thank

Speaker 4 (57:59):

You. Thanks a lot.

Speaker 5 (58:04):

Thanks Charlie.

Speaker 6 (58:08):

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