In Memory of C.K. Williams (1936-2015)

Tikkun is saddened by the passing, on September 20, of C.K. Williams, a poet we greatly admired.

In 2011, Tikkun presented Williams, an award-winning poet and Princeton professor, with an award for communicating the importance of healing the world through his creative work. In his citation for the award, Tikkun poetry editor Joshua Weiner wrote:

What is the role of the poet in Tikkun’s core vision, of commitment to peace, social justice, ecological sanity? What is the role of the poet in a movement that aims to foster solidarity, generosity, kindness, and radical amazement? What is the role of the poet when it comes to social change and individual inner change? Poetry is often discussed in our culture as a kind of commodity that few people are buying; but like meditation, reading poetry, listening to poetry, is less of a product, and more of a process, of coming into fuller awareness. Awareness of what? Our sense of connection to others starts within, moves without, and returns. The reciprocity between self and world is one of continual fluctuation, and there is no poet writing today who is more attuned to the ethical implications of that existential flux than C.K. Williams.  In a growing body of work that now spans over 40 years, C.K. Williams has dramatically rendered the exigency of mindfulness that is our ultimate living paradox—a state of consciousness we cannot escape because we are so busy expanding it: wonder, fear, doubt, curiosity, yearning, hopefulness, resolve, anger, tenderness; the recognition of one’s belonging, the necessity of one’s separation; the inevitability of extinction, the intuition of duration. A radical amazement wedded to a radical skepticism. An impossible marriage of mutual exclusions.  C.K. Williams has devoted himself to dwelling in the possibility of poetry, which, according to the rigor of his art, dissolves facile dualisms through imaginative engagement. His poetry has become one of the necessary records of our spiritual struggle, which is a cognitive condition, a material situation, a worldly concern. He is one of our great storytellers of consciousness in quest of equilibrium, between the pressures of reality and the imagination that conceives new realities. The possibility of change requires the ability to imagine change; and to imagine the greatest change, we need great poets. With verbal intensity, formal energy, restless intelligence, unyielding scrutiny, and something incalculable that we call authenticity, C.K. Williams has become one of this country’s great poets of conscience. It is a pleasure to honor him today with this year’s Tikkun Award.

At the magazine’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, which took place at UC Berkeley on March 14, 2011, Williams read the audience two poems: “Tar” — which describes the aftermath of the Three-Mile Island nuclear disaster — and “The Day Continues Lovely” — a poem that had recently been published in Tikkun. Here’s the video:

[youtube: video=”ZuLAO-OHmMo”]

Williams’s contributions to Tikkun include “The Courage of Poets and Artists,” May/June 2008; and the poem “The Blade,” November 2004. Subscribers can read Paul Breslin’s comprehensive review of the poetry of C.K. Williams here. To commemorate Williams’s spirit, we cite his poem, “Invisible Mending” below:

Invisible Mending

Three women old as angels,
bent as ancient apple trees,
who, in a storefront window,
with magnifying glasses,
needles fine as hair, and shining
scissors, parted woof from warp
and pruned what would in
human tissue have been sick.

Abrasions, rents and frays,
slits and chars and acid
splashes, filaments that gave
way of their own accord
from the stress of spanning
tiny, trifling gaps, but which
in a wounded psyche
make a murderous maze.

Their hands as hard as horn,
their eyes as keen as steel,
the threads they worked with
must have seemed as thick
as ropes on ships, as cables
on a crane, but still their heads
would lower, their teeth bare
to nip away the raveled ends.

Only sometimes would they
lift their eyes to yours to show
how much lovelier than these twists
of silk and serge the garments
of the mind are, yet how much
more benign their implements
than mind’s procedures
of forgiveness and repair.

And in your loneliness you’d notice
how really very gently they’d take
the fabric to its last, with what
solicitude gather up worn edges
to be bound, with what severe
but kind detachment wield
their amputating shears:
forgiveness, and repair.



2 thoughts on “In Memory of C.K. Williams (1936-2015)

  1. Well, since CK is clearly too old to run for president, I nominate Rabbi Lerner as the essential progressive primary candidate. Not to win for that is clearly impossible, but to inject a moral element and reveal Obama’s inability to break free from neo-liberalism, so called.

  2. C.K. Williams was my teacher during two semesters at a college in Boston. This was just as he was discovering long form prose poem writing and I always sat next to him, hoping I guess for transmissions.

    What I got was his lovely beautiful poems which comforted my mom as she was dying in 1980. But he also came to know each of us student, young or older and in one conference he said “You are not a poet so don’t go there. But you ARE a writer and find your form and knock em dead.”

    Ironically it was writing for Tikkun where I found my voice. Thanks Michael I did not know he had died.