Poet's Choice By Robert Pinsky

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By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 10, 2006

The blurbs that publishers print hopefully on book jackets call to mind Samuel Johnson's observation that when writing an epitaph, "A man is not under oath." Some categories of writing aspire to celebration more than information. But the jacket copy on C.K. Williams's new Collected Poems is accurate when it says, "Few poets leave behind them a body of work that is global in its ambition and achievement. C.K. Williams is one of them."

That is true, in both senses of "global" -- geographical range and thematic inclusiveness. Williams's poems have attended to the wars and political issues of his time, they have undertaken philosophical ideas (as in the long poem "A Dream of Mind"), and they have also taken up the traditional material of the lyric. Some readers may associate him with ferocious, boldly topical poems such as "Cassandra, Iraq" with its final phrase about both Cassandra's abductor and the current war: "in a gush of gore, in a net."

A somewhat earlier work, "Leaves" exemplifies ambition in another way: It's boldly universal. Williams has the daring and resourcefulness to make his subject human nature itself, more or less explicitly:

LEAVES

A pair of red leaves spinning on one another

in such wildly erratic patterns over a frozen field

it's hard to tell one from another and whether

if they were creatures they'd be in combat or courting

or just exalting in the tremendousness of their being.

Humans can be like that, capricious, aswirl,


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