cover image Writers Writing Dying

Writers Writing Dying

C.K. Williams. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (96p) ISBN 978-0-374-29332-1

Williams, one of America’s most celebrated poets, now in his 70s, has been thinking out loud about death—his own—concertedly over his past several books, but this is the first time he’s really having fun, taking a jaunty stroll toward oblivion, departing a life wasted “Sucking up another dumb movie on HBO” to reckon with his masters, the poets whose enduring lines have left him, as he says memorably in the book’s opening poem “whacked so hard that you bash the already broken crown of your head.” In a poem about poetry’s capacity to ease depression, he asks, “Who should I be reading? Let’s see. Neruda? No way, too rich./ Lowell and Larkin, good god, we’re already in the pits....” In talky lines like these, thick with self-mocking irony, Williams is able to embody, if not confront, his growing fear, offering a strong dose of sideways empathy at the same time. Williams charges ahead, racing to get out of his own control—”Think, write, write, think: just keep galloping faster and you won’t even notice you’re dead,” he says in the book’s title poem—making for his most thrilling book in years. (Nov.)