Wait Poems

C. K. Williams

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

144 Pages



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Winner of the Jewish Book Award for Poetry A powerful new work from a poet honored with the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Wait finds C. K. Williams by turns ruminative, stalked by “the conscience-beast, who harries me,” and “riven by idiot vigor, voracious as the youth I was for whom everything was going too slowly, too slowly.” Poems about animals and rural life are set hard by poems about shrapnel in Iraq and sudden desire on the Paris Métro; grateful invocations of Herbert and Hopkins give way to fierce negotiations with the shades of Coleridge, Dostoevsky, and Celan. What the poems share is their setting in the cool, spacious, spotlit, book-lined place that is Williams’s consciousness, a place whose workings he has rendered for fifty years with inimitable candor and style.


Praise for Wait

"Williams’ poems enter the brain with such force and velocity, you don’t so much read as ride them. But for all their propulsion, every element stays in sharp focus: mindscapes of fractal intricacy. Landscapes where birds peck for food, heifers rush a fence, and a girl throws down her bicycle. Williams’ poems deliver us to strange crossroads, where a thrush feeds a chick with a misshapen head and a young woman pushes an infant with Down syndrome in a stroller. Where a family comes upon a POW camp for Germans in an American city park. Williams evokes beauty and 'filth / and fetor and rot.' He rails against and marvels over time. He poses impossible metaphysical questions, undermines the cherished notion of moral evolution, looks squarely at death, and mocks poetry’s pretensions. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Williams has long been a poet of conscience and outrage, and how galvanizing are these magnificent protests against war and the entire spectrum of injustices. How cutting his laments over the cruel facts of life, how glorious his 'delight in astonishing being.' Exacting and impassioned, Williams adds another electrifying and important collection to his extraordinary canon."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning Williams (Repair) writes two kinds of poems: proselike pieces that have a narrative drive and tight, short-lined lyrics that seem inspired by haiku. Generally focusing on dramatic situations in which a person—usually an 'I'—muses on his interior life, all of the poems are surprisingly accessible, especially since some of them seem like examinations of conscience. As the poet talks to himself (or to another self 'who's me yet not me') about feelings of guilt and alienation, we listen sometimes avidly. But in other instances, as with a few weaker poems, we must force ourselves to pay attention . . . [Williams] has soul: a perfect ear for the just right ending coupled with an exquisite eye for images that resonate. This book belongs on all poetry lovers' shelves."—Diane Scharper, Library Journal

"In his first new collection since his monumental Collected Poems, Pulitzer-winner and septuagenarian Williams delivers his best book in a decade, and one of his best outright. Like W.S. Merwin's late-career masterpiece, The Shadow of Sirius, this is the kind of book that only a lifetime—of experience and writing—can yield. As the title implies, these poems, which often return to Williams's trademark long lines, find the poet anticipating his end and reflecting on what came before. 'How do you know when you can laugh when somebody dies, your brother dies,' Williams recalls asking a bunch of other boys at a funeral from his childhood. Over and over, Williams tries to compute the math of loss, the bottom line of what death means in life, and finds there is no answer: 'Shouldn't he have told me the contrition cycle would from then be ever upon me,/ it didn't matter that I'd really only wanted to know how grief ends, and when?' the poem continues. Even experience can't provide solutions for the most persistent human problems, these poems attest, as in a meditation on a wasp frantic to escape window glass: 'That invisible barrier between you and the world,/ between you and your truth . . . Stinger blunted/ wings frayed, only the battering, battered brain . . .'"—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Read an Excerpt

C. K. Williams’s books of poetry include Repair (FSG, 1999), which won the Pulitzer

Prize for Poetry, and The Singing (FSG, 2003), winner of the National Book Award. He teaches at Princeton University and lives part of the year in France.

Read the full excerpt


  • C. K. Williams

  • C.K. Williams’s books of poetry include Repair, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and The Singing, winner of the National Book Award. He teaches at Princeton University and lives part of the year in France.

  • C. K. Williams Catherine Mauger