Posted by Nat Bernstein
Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner C. K. Williams succumbed to multiple melanoma yesterday at the age of 78. One of America's greatest poets of the turn of the twenty-first century, Williams built his renown on deep social consciousness and environmental awareness. Composing, critiquing, and translating into his seventies, Williams remained constant in the moral dedication espoused throughout his work— including his last collection of poetry, published only four years ago:
The titular poem to Wait: Poems was published by the Poetry Foundation in 2009 and can be read in their online archives, but it is only a glimpse of the strength of the 2011 National Jewish Book Award-winning collection—or Williams's oeuvre as a whole.
Do I need forgiveness for my depression? My being depressed like a Jew?
All right then: how Jewish am I? What portion of who I am is a Jew?
I don't want vague definitions, qualifications, here on the bridge of the Jew.
I want certainty, science: everything you are, do, think; think, do, are,
is precisely twenty-two percent Jewish. Or six-and-a-half. Some nice prime.
Your suffering is Jewish. Your resistant, resilient pleasure in living, too,
can be tracked to some Jew on some bridge on page something or other
in some city, some village, some shtetl, some festering shvitz of a slum,
with Jews with black hats or not, on their undershirts fringes or not.
— from "Jew on Bridge" by C. K. Williams, Wait: Poems, 2011