Friends of Rutgers English Spring/Summer 2005

Inside This Issue
John Belton Wins a Guggenheim
From the Chair
Marianne DeKoven Wins Research Award
Beyond the Classroom: Reading Groups
Stacy Klein Wins Research Fellowship
Brent Hayes Edwards Wins Library Fellowship
Richard Koszarski on New Jersey’s Film History
A New Film Library
New Faculty Profile: Veena Kumar
Writers at Rutgers: Jean Valentine
Writers at Rutgers: C. K. Williams
Wesley Brown Retires
A Dramatic Farewell to Wesley Brown
A History of Rutgers English: Part 4
A History of Douglass English
Student Awards Bring Out the Best
The Burian Award
The Enid Dame Poetry Prize
A New Graduate Seminar
In Memoriam: Lexi Rutnitsky
Graduate Student Placement
Howard Travel Fellowships
Plangere Center Expands
Alumni Offer Career Advice
Thanks to Our Interns
More About Friends of Rutgers English

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C. K. Williams: Poetry as Storytelling
By Melissa Arkin

Poet C. K. Williams reading in the Zimmerli Museum. Photo by Sina Queyras.The Writers at Rutgers Series brought a second award-winning poet to visit this season when C. K. Williams read on the evening of February 23. Once again, the room at the Zimmerli Art Museum overflowed with more people than there were seats, and the packed audience clearly enjoyed Mr. Williams’s performance as a poet and a storyteller.

Mr. Williams read from his newest book The Singing, which won the National Book Award for 2003. His previous book, Repair, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1999. He is known for his daring formal style, marrying perceptive everyday observations to lines so long that they defy the usual conventions of lyric poetry. His verbose poems often border on the prosaic, inspiring critics to compare them to the work of Walt Whitman.

Professor Harriet Davidson introduced Mr. Williams as part of a "long tradition of New Jersey poets,” because he was raised in Newark. Listing such recognized greats as Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, Professor Davidson noted, “C. K. Williams is no small part of that legacy.” She described Mr. Williams’s ability to communicate everything from odd everyday encounters to the tragedy of historical events in an engaging poetic voice, and added, “It changes the way you see.”

With enthusiastic applause from the crowd, Mr. Williams took his place at the podium. Although he said he had never been to Rutgers before, he acknowledged his local roots by reading poems that dealt with his experiences growing up in New Jersey. His poems encompassed a great variety of observations and descriptions of encounters in New Jersey. “Peggy” is about a horse in Jamesburg NJ, but also about the open farmlands of the Garden State that have been increasingly developed over the years. “Sanctity” describes the experience of having been run over by a truck while working at a Turnpike rest stop, while “Gas Station” is a candid exploration of the emotions of adolescence.

There seemed to be very little that Mr. Williams would refrain from discussing, and the elements of autobiographical storytelling in his poems surprised and tickled the audience. Williams’s poem “Gas” – about a certain bodily function not usually discussed in poetry – drew great laughter. Yet it was Mr. Williams’s outspokenness about current events that was most poignant. A poem written about the recent election, “The Blade,” compares the “dark period” under Franco’s oppressive rule in Spain to some aspects of contemporary American life. Mr. Williams’s reading concluded with a poem entitled “Shrapnel,” which focused on war on a personal level by describing its impact on the individuals who fight.

Writing political poetry is nothing new to Mr. Williams. He began his career as an antiwar poet with the publication of Lies in 1969, after finding that poetry was a way to express his outrage about the Vietnam War. In a recent profile in The New York Times, he stated that even though his political commitments have become less obvious in his poetry, they never simply disappear: “It is always there, but it is more subliminal and is no longer on the surface. I do not want to be dogmatic.”

Mr. Williams answered questions from audience members, signed books, and stayed for the usual reception following the reading. After such a compelling performance, many guests stayed late into the evening to discuss the reading, recalling similar experiences from their own lives and rereading favorite lines from the poems.

The Writers at Rutgers readings by Jean Valentine and C. K. Williams gave Rutgers audiences a strong impression of the great range of possibilities embraced by contemporary poetry. Though their styles are completely different, both well-known poets are accomplished artists who are completely dedicated to their craft. One suspects that a future great “ New Jersey poet” might have been sitting in the audience for both of those events, feeling inspired.

More about C. K. Williams and The Singing

Writers at Rutgers



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