The Singing Poems

C. K. Williams

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages



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Winner of the National Book Award
A Booklist Editors' Choice

In his first volume of poems since Repair, which was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, Williams treats the characteristic subjects of a poet's maturity—the loss of friends, the love of grandchildren, the receding memories of childhood, the baffling illogic of current events—with an intensity and drive that recall not only his recent work but also his early books, which were published some forty years ago.

Williams here gazes at a Rembrandt self-portrait, and from it fashions a self-portrait of his own. He ponders an "anatomical effigy" at the Museum of Mankind, an in so doing "dissects" our common humanity. Stoking a fire at a house in the country, he recalls a friend who was burned horribly in war, and then turns, with eloquence and authority, to contemporary life during wartime, asking "how those with power over us can effect these things, by what cynical reasoning do they pardon themselves."

The Singing is a direct and resonant book of poems: touching, searching, heartfelt, permanent.


Praise for The Singing

"There are masterful poems in this book . . . Williams's ability to describe continues to be extraordinary and so is his gift for telling a story."—Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books

"The poems in Williams's stunning new collection, The Singing, have a new density and clarity. They are clear about complex things, which one sees as slightly magnified, like pebbles on the bed of a very clear stream. Williams now realizes more than ever that 'your truths will seek you, though you still / must construct and comprehend them.' He succeeds at this task with a flair that tempers the regret that is the recurring note in these poems, and transforms it into something like joy."—John Ashbery

"Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Williams has written, 'Poetry confronts in the most clear-eyed way just those emotions which consciousness wishes to slide by.' This crucial observation can be read as Williams' creative credo, because he has taken as his mission the articulation of those aspects of life that haunt and plague us the most: lost love, brute aggression, hate, and death. Williams dissects and ponders these dark mysteries within the contexts of life's implacable organic imperatives and history's compelling yet ineffectual cautionary tales, thus breaking through the isolation and despair contemplation of harsh realities can engender. Hope resides in the forging of such philosophical connections and in the perspective they provide, and there is joy, too, in experiencing Williams's candor and command of language and imagery. This is an altogether transfixing and cathartically probing collection, but it reaches its highest peaks in a set of poems in which Williams offers deep and anchoring insights into the time of war that began on September 11, 2001, and in the ravishingly beautiful cycle 'Elegy to an Artist,' a tribute to friendship and ringing testimony to the radiance of the human spirit and the consolation of art."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • C. K. Williams

  • C. K. Williams is the author of several books of poems; he has also published an essay collection, works of translation, and a memoir. His work has received numerous awards, including the PEN/Voelcker Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the prestigious Berlin Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Williams teaches in the Writing Program at Princeton University and lives part of the year in Paris.

  • C. K. Williams Catherine Mauger