C.K. (Charles Kenneth) Williams was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1936. He began writing poems while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Much later, in 1969, his first volume of poetry, »Lies«, was published. The opening poem, »A Day for Anne Frank«, arose from the outline for a letter on human rights infractions which Williams had written to a newspaper editor. Since then, his preoccupation with suffering, violence and injustice have remained unaltered at the centre of his highly productive output. His second volume of poetry, »I am the Bitter Name« (1972), castigates America’s military industry and the blindness of the powerful. Despite fundamental and emphatic compassion, William’s poetry goes beyond mere »littérature engagée«. »Poetry is part of the moral resonance of the world’s urgency. It adds to the moral repository of the human conscience and is part of the existence of moral resonance in the world.«
Williams has been the editor of the »American Poetry Review« since 1972. He is considered an important and distinctive voice of American poetry, and has been honoured with numerous prizes. His collection »Flesh and Blood« (1987) won the National Critics Circle Award, and »The Singing« (2003) won the National Book Award. In 2000 he won the Pulitzer Prize for »Repair« (1999). In 2005 he received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize of the Poetry Foundation for his complete works. A typical stylistic feature of William’s poetry is uncommonly long lines of verse. With great forcefulness he evokes the suppressed tragic quality of everyday life through complex sentence structures, yet without surrendering to despondency. Joachim Sartorius writes: »He presents ethical questions to a dense, dark world that is commonplace and only glimpses mercy at rare moments. A secret lies within this exchange between the poet and the world, a secret which Williams searches to orbit, entwine, and finally to fathom, with the help of long, meandering sentences. The poem comes close to something like a prayer, a strange, terrified prayer, that lays hope in the dispensation of mercy in the face of all fatality, violence and brutality.«
Alongside his poetry Williams has also worked as translator of Sophocles, Euripides, Francis Ponge and Adam Zagajewski. In 2002 he participated in the debate triggered by Martin Walser about German »Normalization«, with the essay »The Symbolic Nation of Culprits«. In this essay he declared that the symbolic nature of history does not obey the models of compensation and forgiveness. Williams is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His poems have been translated into German and appeared in magazines such as »Neue Rundschau«, »Akzente« and »Lettre International«. He lives half the year in the country in France, and half the year in Princeton where he teaches Creative Writing and Translation.
Translator: Walter Thümler
© international literature festival berlin