Repair: Poems

ISBN 10: 0374249326 / ISBN 13: 9780374249328
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Synopsis: In his eighth book, one of the nation's most acclaimed living poets--a winner of the PEN/Voelcker Award and the Berlin Prize--composes nearly fifty new pieces featuring a long work on the 1960s and a meditation on time.

Review: Randall Jarrell famously compared the likelihood of writing a good poem to that of being struck by a meteor. If that's the case, C.K. Williams has been defying the odds for almost 20 years, ever since he published Tar. That collection, which appeared in 1983, marked the debut of his poetic signature: the lengthy, elaborately discursive line, packed to the gills with novelistic detail. And since then, with Flesh and Blood and The Vigil, he's only refined his methods. At times Williams seems to be working that no man's land between prose and verse, daring us to read him as a rococo Raymond Carver--an Ash Can School unto himself. But he always manages to pull one more syntactical miracle from his hat, reminding us that he's a poet after all, and a superlative one.

In any case, he continues his winning streak with Repair. Here as before, Williams remains a meticulous observer of the natural world. But always he invests nature with meaning--and in his brilliant hands, the pathetic fallacy becomes anything but pathetic. Note, for example, how the subject of "Tree" takes on a very human quotient of knowledge and neurosis:

One vast segment of tree, the very topmost, bows ceremoniously against a breath of breeze,
patient, sagacious, apparently possessing the wisdom such a union of space, light, and matter should.

Just beneath, though grazed by the same barely perceptible zephyr, a knot of leaves quakes hectically,
as though trying to convince that more pacific presence above of its anxieties, its dire forebodings.

Elsewhere Williams works his magic on a pair of shoes, an urban rainstorm, racial tension, or (in what might be a first in his oeuvre) the "really quite inoffensive pop" of a stranger's flatulence. These subjects, too, lead him straight to his great preoccupation, which is consciousness itself. But not surprisingly, the 62-year-old poet has begun to concoct his own Intimations of Mortality, which focus precisely on that slow or rapid extinction of mind. "Last Things," "Not Soul," and "House" are all exquisite, melancholy variations on this single theme. Yet "Tender" is the real masterpiece in this category: a compact, deeply surprising lyric in which a dinghy (!) becomes a figure for our mortal imaginings: "An inflatable tender, tethered to the stern, just skims the commotion of the wake: / within it will be oars, a miniature motor, and, tucked into a pocket, life vests. / Such reassuring redundancy: don't we desire just such an accessory, faith perhaps, / or at a certain age to be comforted, not daunted, by knowing one will really die?" No sane reader can hear this poem without concluding that Williams has been struck by a meteor once again. --James Marcus

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Title: Repair: Poems
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