Nov. 4, 2006


by C. K. Williams

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Poem: "Droplets" by C.K. Williams, from Love About Love. © Ausable Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Even when the rain falls relatively hard,
only one leaf at a time of the little tree
you planted on the balcony last year,
then another leaf at its time, and one more,
is set trembling by the constant droplets,

but the rain, the clouds flocked over the city,
you at the piano inside, your hesitant music
mingling with the din of the downpour,
the gush of rivulets loosed from the eaves,
the iron railings and flowing gutters,

all of it fuses in me with such intensity
that I can't help wondering why my longing
to live forever has so abated that it hardly
comes to me anymore, and never as it did,
as regret for what I might not live to live,

but rather as a layering of instants like this,
transient as the mist drawn from the rooftops,
yet emphatic as any note of the nocturne
you practice, and, the storm faltering, fading
into its own radiant passing, you practice again.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Charles Frazier, (books by this author) born in Asheville, North Carolina (1950). He grew up in a rural area of North Carolina, near Cold Mountain, where his family has lived for more than 200 years. After college, he went off to Colorado to teach English literature for several years, but he didn't like the West, so he eventually moved back to North Carolina. He'd been away so long that he hardly recognized his home state. In his absence, there had been new interstate highways built, and the rural areas were now full of developments and shopping centers.

He felt that Appalachian culture of his childhood was quickly disappearing from North Carolina, and he set out to recapture as much of it as he could. He began going to bluegrass festivals and reading up on local folklore and history. He went on hikes through the remaining rural parts of the state and studied the indigenous plants and animals. He was especially interested in the area around Cold Mountain, where his family was from.

At the same time, Frazier's father had been researching the family history, and one day he told Frazier that one of their ancestors, Frazier's great-great uncle, was a Confederate soldier who had deserted the Confederate army and walked more than 250 miles to his home near Cold Mountain. Suddenly, Frazier realized that he could use all his research to write a novel loosely based on his ancestor's journey home from the war.

He took a sabbatical from his job that stretched from two into seven years. Still, he was resigned to the fact that he might never publish the book. He had never shared it with anyone but his wife and his daughter, and he didn't care if anyone ever read it as long as he was personally satisfied with the result. But while he was working on the 15th draft, his wife smuggled 100 pages of it to the local novelist Kaye Gibbons, who was in their carpool group, and Kaye Gibbons was blown away. She sent the novel to an agent, and it got picked up immediately by the Atlantic Monthly Press.

The first printing of Frazier's novel Cold Mountain (1998) was just 25,000 copies. It sold out within a week of publication. The book went on to sell almost 2 million copies, and it won the National Book Award.

Frazier second novel, Thirteen Moons, came out this year (2006).

It's the birthday of the poet C. K. (Charles Kenneth) Williams, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). When he was growing up, he said, "I wasn't particularly compelled by words for their own sake, or by 'literature,' which had always repelled me with its auras of mustiness and reverence. I detested almost any book I had to read, hated English in school, and I must have been surprised, maybe even a little put off, to find myself, just as the dreary poetry survey courses ended, turning the stuff out myself." He wrote his first poems to impress his girlfriend, who liked poetry, but he found that he grew to care more about the poetry he wrote than the effect it had on his girlfriend.

After graduating from college, he sat down and tried to read everything he'd ever heard of. He read Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Whitman, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Shelley, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Miller, Frazer, Jung, Plath and Ginsberg. He said, "I'd fall asleep every night over a book, dreaming in other people's voices. In the morning I'd wake up and try, mostly fruitlessly, to write acceptable poems."

Growing up Jewish, he'd never once been told about the Holocaust by his parents or any other adult. He'd only learned about it from an older friend, in 1958, when he was in his 20s. He was stunned that 6 million people had been murdered during the first few years of his own lifetime, and he hadn't even heard about it. So he began a huge epic poem about the subject, which he wrote and rewrote, rearranged and revised, again and again, never getting it right.

Then one afternoon, in 1964, he read a magazine article about civil rights activists in the South, and he decided to write a letter to the editor of the magazine comparing racism in America to the anti-Semitism under Hitler, and it was while he was writing that letter to the editor that he suddenly realized how to write his poem about the Holocaust. That poem was called "A Day for Anne Frank," and Williams has said that he's never struggled very hard to write a poem since.

He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Lies (1969), Flesh and Blood (1987), and Repair (2000), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

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