The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 30, 2007

"'I'm Not A Nice Person,' He Chanted"

C. K. Williams won the Pulitzer in 2000 for his collection, Repair, and the National Book Award in 2003 for his collection The Singing. The interview below, with The Newshour on PBS, was conducted in 2003, right after Williams received the NBA, and I think it set up this recording of Williams reading 'The Singing' rather nicely:


JEFFREY BROWN: And what starts a poem for you? What concerns do you have that make you sit down and start to write?

C. K. WILLIAMS: That varies wildly. It can be some little scene that I see in the street. It can be a little piece of language that comes to me. The most interesting thing about a poem is that it doesn't exist until it has its music. Every poem has a music. And until it has that, it's not a poem. It's just information or data that's floating around in your head or on your desk.

JB: And what does "a music" mean?

CW: Well, it's the way the poem identifies itself musically in language. Poems have a different music from ordinary language and every poem has a different kind of music of necessity, and that's, in a way, the hardest thing about writing poetry is waiting for that music, and sometimes you never know if it's going to come. Sometimes you have a poem that you really want to write and it never happens. The music never comes and then the poem never happens.

JB: But sometimes it comes and you know it when you hear it?

CW: Yes, when you hear it. Sometimes you hear it before you know it. Sometimes you hear a music and you don't know what the poem is going to be about. You only have that little piece of music, and you think... then you look around the world and you say, "what is this music going to be useful for in dealing with the world?"


On that note, here is C. K. Williams reading 'The Singing':

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