Cyril Wong's Reviews > Wait

Wait by C.K. Williams
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's review
Jul 28, 2010

really liked it

Aligning with Benjamin and Celan in his seventeenth collection of poems, Williams acknowledges, with great reverence, humility and conviction, a literary lineage and his own responsibilities in the present as a critic of historical violence. Benjamin’s notion that society is built on acts of barbarism, and Celan’s “black milk of daybreak” (“milk” as life contaminated by the “black” of violence in a German concentration camp; “daybreak” referring to a sky stained by the ash of cremated Jews) in his Todesfuge, are evoked in the final poem that expresses the poet’s inability to live with a world that is still wrong (“Oh still Oh again”) in so many ways; so wrong that writers like Benjamin and Celan retreated by committing suicide (Benjamin by morphine; Celan off a bridge) in their own century: “Celan on his bridge…Jew on bridge. Raskolnikov-Dostoevsky still in my breath. Under my breath. / Black milk of daybreak. Aschenes Haar. Antschel-Celan. Ash. Breath.”

Those, like Williams now, who have not died from all that “shame for the humans, / what humans can do to each other” continue to carve breathless, grief-stricken responses against the grain of an ever-darkening present, its darkness too readily hidden by the glare of celebratory, hegemonic accounts of history. Williams' book casts its critical eye far and wide, critiquing both natural and social spheres to expose their shared core of moral emptiness, denial of which is manifested through metanarratives of spiritual destiny and cultural progress in countries like the United States. Williams has no delusions about the actual godlessness that fuels our contemporary world. His occasionally stuttering, mostly urgent and expansive poems do far more than collect and interweave ideas, images and moments for aesthetic to intellectual ends, or to further a literary career. The poet’s desire to write is surely founded on panic and a terror that our world could very well be spinning ruthlessly out of control.

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