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AN INTERVIEW WITH C. K. WILLIAMS C. K. Williams Photo by Jim Kalett C. K. Williams is the author of four books of poetry—Lies and IAm the Bitter Name (Houghton Mifflin) and With Ignorance and Tar (Random House)—and, with Herbert Golder, co-translator of Euripedes' 77ie Bacchae (Oxford). His work has appeared in many magazines, including The Paris Review, Antaeus, and ??e New Republic. Professor of English and Creative Writing at George Mason University, he lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Catherine Mauger, a jeweler. A Written Interview with C. K. Williams / Ed Hirsch Interviewer: In "Beginnings," an essay about your poetic origins and influences, you quote Machado to the effect that "in order to write a poem you have to invent a poet to write it." Do you think that the poet you've invented has changed as your work has changed and developed? Williams: "Developing" and "changing" are rather elusive charming concepts when you're thinking about yourself. I like Yeats' remark about his having realized that everything he ever thought and did was already implicit in him when he was eighteen, that all he had to do was to work it all out. That's a good way of defusing the issue. We're supposed to be developing. We're supposed to be making progress, and our terror is that the only progress we're really making is through time. Still, just the accumulation of experience counts for something. AU the mistakes you make that you at least won't make again . . . maybe. And there does seem to be an accumulation of craft, although one of the paradoxes of being an artist is that one has to beware of becoming too fluent, because one can be speaking with a portion of the soul that doesn't reach far enough into the quandries, the mysteries—what we like to call the unconscious. At a certain time in my life I found Machado's statement desperately useful, because I knew, and was squeamish about it, that I was in fact making someone up, a poet, who I had only the vaguest hope would someday find a congruence with the person I really was. But I think all of that's calmed down a little now, thank goodness. I seem to have to check in at the identity bank a little less often. Maybe it's just one of the realizations of middle-age that whatever one's made of oneself it's too late to change it. Interviewer: Is it accurate to say that from the beginning many of your poems have conducted—either explicitly or implicitly, either with a small or a capital "G"—a kind of running argument with or about God? Tm thinking of poems hke "A Day for Anne Frank" (from Lies), "The Next to the Last Poem about God" (from I Am the Bitter Name), and "Spit" (from With Ignorance.) Williams: I don't know exactly why, but I'm somewhat embarrassed to talk about all of that now. Maybe I've taken too much of that battle, if that's what it is, into the public realm of poetry, maybe I'm just going The Missouri Review · 252 through a phase of it that's either very private, or very inconsequential, but it feels as though my great theodicy struggles were very crude, though certainly heartfelt. I don't know how I'd make them less crude now ... It feels as though I've somehow burnt off everything but the struggle; I don't feel much promise of anything anymore from any god I can really conceive of, and maybe a god who's only a theodidy-creature isn't a divinity at all, but a sort of inflated political gesture. Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot of Dickinson lately, and her struggles are so much more complex and rigorous and attentive than mine have ever been. Maybe my struggle has always been simply one of belief, and perhaps I've given the struggle up for now. I keep saying "maybe" but I keep feeling it's appropriate. I love human beings in their relationships...


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