REPAIR by C.K. Williams


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The much-celebrated Princeton professor (whose honors include an NBCC award) provides in this, his eight book of verse, a wishful definition of his art: a poet is ’someone who lives in words, making a world from their music.” Elsewhere, he reveals his dissatisfaction with language when sculpting with wax, ’something real,” “instead of words.” Such confusion about his work results partly from Williams’s clumsy style—he’s made the extra-long-line his trademark, but his pronouns often lose their referent as a result; his stale and undistinguished vocabulary is propped up by a preponderance of adverbs; and his flat and wordy lines derive their only rhythms from the pointless repetition of phrases. The author sticks with the driving themes of his previous volumes: the struggle between “consciousness” (a word he uses way too often) and being in the moment; between love and despair; between the heart and the mind—though neither of these fares well. Williams’s testaments to love are cloying at best: in a poem to his newborn grandson, he enters the child’s “consciousness” and is overwhelmed by ’such love—; in “Depths,” a childhood fear anticipates the poet’s fear of never having found his true “love—; and “Lost Wax” answers its own question——What make you whole?” [sic] with “Love. My love.” Williams’s long, touchy-feely personal narratives are particularly limp: “The Poet” profiles a self-styled poet from the “years of hippiedom” who scares the guilt-ridden Williams; and “King——a knee-jerk narrative about crying at a Martin Luther King memorial—is a self-serving gush about feeling his “black friend’s” pain. Williams should stick to poems like “Invisible Mending,” a lovely portrait of three seamstresses working in a storefront window, seen as angels of “forgiveness and repair.” It’s hard to find a whole lot to enjoy in a poet who moans: “The agonizing plasma consciousness can be.”

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-24932-6
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999