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On Being Old.

A novelist friend of mine published an essay a few years ago called "On Being Beautiful." I was inspired by her to try a similar title, one that might hearten me to be as frank as she was. Although a few readers grumbled about the possible vanity implied in my friend's words, she is indeed beautiful, as I am indeed old.

I remember the first time I was referred to in print as a "young poet"--it happened just about the time I thought I'd moved into early middle age. For some reason poets continue to be called young for a both gratifying and irritatingly longtime, then you're not anything in particular, and finally you're referred to as ... well, like me, old--or worse, elderly, a word that seems to have lurking in it various horrendous decrepitudes. So I'll begin by noting that the hardest part of being old is admitting to yourself you actually are. That sounds more aphoristic than I mean it to be: the truth is it's a duel, a savage battle. Tenor a hundred times a day sirens wail to remind you that for a minute or two you may have forgotten you're seventy-something, and that you'd better face the fact more realistically. Except there are no instructions as to how to do this: you just know you're kidding yourself if you slip into the benign indifference to passing time we're allowed to enjoy most of our lives.

The rest of aging, at least so far, isn't as bad as it might be. My body hangs together pretty well--the only time it's a bother is when I happen to catch sight of myself in a mirror, especially late at night after too much sight-clearing wine. The upsetting thing then is how in its softenings and sags the body looks simply stupid. It doesn't understand the way it once did how important a personage it's lugging around--otherwise it wouldn't date appear in this gnarled disguise.

It occurs to me to wonder how some of my poet heroes would have looked undressed when they were old. One of the ones I most admire, Robert Frost, I actually met when I was twenty and he was eighty-three. I had a little fling with his granddaughter and had the chance to spend some time with him. I was so awed that I had no idea what to say to him; I just watched. Physically, by then his face was like a sculpture of itself: something in the public rather than the private realm. His granddaughter I might add was my first critic. I'd just begun to write and had never shown a poem to anyone but a few non-poet friends. She'd read a lot of poetry, and when I read a poem to her, the second I'd ever written, she said, "That's awful," and I knew she was right.

Which is another thing about looking back from so far: wondering how it all happened to happen. I remember the first time I wrote a reasonably successful poem, but not what I'd had to learn in order to write it. I had an inspiring teacher in college, Morse Peckham, who was then just writing a book on the dose reading of poetry, and I learned at least how to read a poem from him, if not how to write one. I also got to know the great architect Louis Kahn quite well: he was a fanatical worker, and I took from him how dedicated you had to be to your art. I came a little later to meet some poets around my age, who taught me a lot. But it still remains a genuine mystery to me how I ever spun a competent poem out of so much snarl.

But I was speaking of the time before all that, when I was subjected to Frost's granddaughter's painful appraisal. I survived that, and worse over the years, but one of the benefits of having lived this long in poetry is that one comes, gratefully, to feel quite distant from the theatrics of criticism. Even if I might still squirm a bit from jabs at my work, I've attained a certain equanimity--except, I should add, when it's clear that a critic hasn't read my poems carefully, or at all. That can happen surprisingly often, and still makes my teeth grind. Mostly, though, it's hard not to perceive the sheer absurdity of the stance of many critics, the way they assume they're more intimate with the genre about which they're commenting than mere practitioners. Certainly critics "know" things, sometimes quite well, but the conviction some have that what they know is more germane to the production of poetry than the poet can be irksome, to say the least. This is almost never the case when poets write criticism. The greatest poet-critics, like Auden, Heaney, Mandelstam, and Brodsky, always inform their considerations with an awareness of how difficult is the accomplishing of poetry, and how hard it is even to think fruitfully about it.

Young poets, in contrast, can be pretty obnoxious about it all. The poet friends I mentioned above--one of whom had already at eighteen published a book, the fact of which woefully intimidated me--had a sincere passion to protect the world from what they considered bad poems. Danger! they'd cry. Don't even look! You might turn to poetry stone! I never could share their fervor and contempt, not because of anything I can call generosity but because I didn't have the confidence to be that certain about anything. I still mostly don't--I've become over the years more and more conscious of the vagaries of taste.

How shifty a thing taste can be, how shitty, even one's own. I tremble to remember the poets, like Elizabeth Bishop, I dismissed out of hand, whose greatness dawned on me only later. Then there are poets I once admired and who opened ways through thickets for me, but whose work now I find clumsy and shiftless. I think we all tend to believe we can see through the vagaries of our moment to some absolute standard of judgment--this must be a characteristic of human consciousness itself--but the conviction is absurd. So, I never blab anymore about poets whose work doesn't or no longer moves me. But there are, however, thank goodness, poets the power and force of whose work once nearly knocked me down with delight and envy, and still does, so that when I read there again I feel again like an apprentice. About whom here's a poem:
Whacked
 Every morning of my life I sit at my desk getting whacked by some
great
 poet or other.
 Some Yeats, some Auden, some Herbert or Larkin, and lately a whole
tribe
 of others--
 oi!--younger than me. Whack! Wiped out, every day ... I mean since
 becoming a poet.
 I mean wanting to--one never is, really, a poet. Or I'm not. Not
 when I'm trying to write,
 though then comes a line, maybe another, but still pops up again
 Yeats, say, and again whacked.
 ... Wait ... OId brain in my head I'd forgotten that
"whacked" in
 crime movies means murdered,
 rubbed out, by the mob--little the mob-guys would think that poets
 could do it, and who'd believe
 that instead of running away you'd rind yourself fleeing towards
 them, some sweet-seeming Bishop
 who's saying SO-SO-SO, but whack! you're stampeding again
through
 her poems like a mustang,
 whacked so hard that you bash the already broken crown of your head
 on the roof of your stall.
 ... What a relief to read for awhile some bad poems. Still, I try
 not to--bad, whackless poems
 can hurt you, can say you're all right when you're not, can
condone
 your poet-coward
 who compulsively asks if you're all right--Am I all right?--not
 wasting your time--
 Am I wasting time?--though you know you are, wasting time, if
you're
 not being whacked.
 Bad poems let you off that: the confessional mode now: I've read
 reams, I've written as many.
 Meanwhile, this morning, this very moment, I'm thinking of
George
 Herbert composing;
 I see him, by himself, in some candlelit chamber unbearably lonely
 to us but glorious to him,
 and he's hunched over, scribbling, scribbling, and the
room's
 filling with poems whacking at me,
 and Herbert's not even paying attention as the huge tide of them
 rises and engulfs me
 in warm tangles of musical down as from the breasts of the choiring
 dawn-tangling larks.
 "Lovely enchanting language, sugar-cane ..." Whack!
"The sweet
 strains, the lullings ..."
 Oh whack! Lowell or Keats, Rilke or Wordsworth or Wyatt:
 whack--fifty years of it,
 old race-horse, plug hauling its junk--isn't it time to be put
out
 to pasture? But ah, I'd still
 if I could lie down like a mare giving birth, arm in my own uterine
 channel to tug out another,
 one more, only one more, poor damp little poem, then I'll be
 happy--I promise, I swear. (1) 


It's not only one's taste that changes over the course of one's life. In the early years of my literary education at university and just after, there was a vogue for myth, folklore, primitive religion, preliterate song--The Golden Bough, The White Goddess, Technicians of the Sacred, all that. The poets and intellectuals I knew then weren't much interested in history, or only insofar as it manifested in poetry and art. Wars, revolutions, social movements, evolving or regressive; all were peripheral to the seriousness of what we thought of as our larger interests. Looking back now, I see those thankfully few years as a distraction from the real world in which I was living. Because about then in America the civil rights movement dawned, then the Vietnam War was launched, and though such historical upheavals could be enriched by thinking of them in a context of collective unconscious and all that, you could no longer pretend to think seriously about or write about the world without a knowledge of society and history, real history.

Of course, one's own life takes place in history and generates a history of its own. For a poet, this can be difficult. It's very hard to grasp realistically the trajectory of your own writing life in relation to the world around you, mostly because you've been so preoccupied with the daily, monthly, decadely obsession of writing poems. And then there are times these days when the niggling question surfaces of whether one might actually have written enough poems.

In a sympathetic and intelligent (the second word devolves directly from the first) review of my last book, the poet-critic ended his otherwise favorable observations by remarking that he found the book a third too long. Of course I disagreed, and besides, how many books are there about which something similar couldn't have been said? But still, I wondered whether there might be a model the writer had in mind that my book had violated. And, even more discomfiting: if there's a model for how long a book of poetry should be, might there be a template for a career in poetry? Is there, as the insurance companies put it about medical expenses, a lifetime limit on the number of poems one is allowed to write?

Then there's that old expression, "something to say." Might one come to a time when indeed one might have nothing more to say? At the same time, did one ever really start a poem with something to say? William Carlos Williams once published a book called I Wanted to Write a Poem, and before Williams became one of my masters, I despised its title, so much so that I wouldn't read the book. In the muddle of my misguided ideals, I believed you weren't supposed just to want to write a poem: poems were meant to germinate from and enact some urgent philosophical or spiritual intuition--their actual composition was somehow incidental to that larger purpose.

I don't know how long it took me--I suppose fortunately not all that long--to grasp that writing a poem--writing a poem--was what everything was about. To be a poet isn't to distill ideas, however grand, into verse-language; rather, in the simplest terms, to write poetry is to sing. And the task of the poet is to learn to sing, then to do it, then learn it again, and do it a little differently ... Of course you do realize as you go along that the song is most compelling when it embodies issues beyond poetry that are crucial to you, and perhaps to others.

The question of whether I might be inflicting poems on the world, though, is less trying than convincing myself that it's worth the effort to write another poem. Writing poems is hard work. Not writing there is even harder. No wonder one comes to think: Why bother? Why am I doing this? Then: what have I done with my life? Written poems? Written poems when there was so much to be done in the world that needed greater doing? But wait, isn't this the abiding question of lyric poetry, the poetry of an "I"? Who am I, thinking about temporality, mortality, beauty, or death? Who am I, falling in love? Who am I, wandering through the world with nothing much to do, like Whitman, whose work shows you can make yourself and the world and other people monumental by strolling around without much to do?

But in the worst moments, this doesn't relieve the galling sense of repetitiveness and futility. Sometimes it's easier to convince myself to keep at it by thinking of painters or musicians who just seem to do what they do with no fuss. Monet, in his hoary old age tottering out to his garden or pond to do one more painting. Or Titian, in his ancientness still working. That's what you do, that's all. You paint another painting. Or if you're a musician you write another sonata, or symphony, or whatever. The Japanese painter and printmaker we know as Hokusai gave himself thirty different names during his lifetime. In his seventies he referred to himself as "The old man mad about art"--that's heartening: I like that. It was also around then that he projected a life for himself in which at a hundred he would finally learn how really to paint, and then, he said, at a hundred and thirty "every dot and stroke I paint will be alive." He died at eighty-nine.

In my daily life, though, none of this woolgathering is very useful in revealing what my next poem will be. Yeats wrote, in "The Circus Animals' Desertion," "I sought a theme, and sought for it in vain." And that's it exactly. It used to be that "themes" came tumbling from all directions, you just had to get out of the way. But now ...

And what makes it even pricklier is how quickly I can fall into a funk when nothing is happening at my desk. This isn't anything new: my editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jon Galassi, who's also a good friend, tells me I've been complaining in much the same way for the nearly forty years we've known each other. Lately, though, I think I've figured out where my desperation comes from.

I used to believe what I thought was a metaphor about writing poetry: that it's addictive, like a drug. But I understand now that composing verse is actually, not metaphorically, addictive: there really is a kind of rush, to use the addicts' term, when you're generating or revising a poem. Busy the mind is, scurrying this way and that, spinning and soaring, and, as is apparently the case with stimulants, there's an altered experience of time and of the self as it moves through time--I'm sure other poets know what I mean by this. And they must know, too, that when one isn't working on a poem, doesn't have any poetry work to do, there are real withdrawal symptoms. In my case, I fall into something like depression, and as in other depressions, I begin to doubt, to ask questions I shouldn't, about my work, my life--all I grumbled about just now. Goethe put it succinctly: "The poet's requisite trance is the most fragile element in his armory."

The other realization I've had recently was that some of this, paradoxically, has to do with the years I've practiced my craft. I'm more efficient now when I work; it doesn't take me as long to make decisions about a poem, to revise or reconceive it. This is all well and good, and I certainly won't complain, except that my proficiency leaves me with more time on my hands to suffer the absence of the excitement of poetry labor. I sit and stare, I close my eyes, I read other people's poems or don't, it doesn't matter. Of course reading great poems, especially for the first time, has its own addictive thrill--it's almost as good as going at one's own work--but there aren't all that many great poems which after all these decades haven't already found me. So it can be a relief when a friend sends me a poem to make suggestions about--at least I'm doing something.

One thing that does keep me going in the end is change, the sound of my poems changing; their tone, voice, velocity, general shape. Knowing how or why these changes come about I've always found impossible to describe: they just happen, and I tag along. After my most recent book, Wait, I found myself writing poems unlike any I'd written before. There seemed to have arrived in there an element not only of the irrational but the absurd, a willed goofiness that for some reason pleases me. "Whacked" is an example of this. Maybe I'm tired of being logical, rational, lucid, "mature." I knew all along I was never any of these things: sanity was always a kind of armor I donned before I went into the fray of composition--and of life, too, I suppose. When I hit seventy or so, it came to me that I hadn't changed a bit since I was eighteen--Yeats once said something similar--or even since I was twelve. I often feel as chartless as I was then, meandering through the world without much definite sense of direction. As a kid that was mostly okay, until the tornado of adolescence whirled me into the mind I had to live with for the next fifty years, when I finally landed where occasionally I can relax and be myself again.

"Being oneself." Isn't that the most absurd phrase? As though there's a choice? In the life of art, though, every day can feel like a choice. Who am I today? Am I a poet today, one who might write a poem? Or am I that clod who dared cultivate the desire to string words together in a poetic way? So, again: will I finally be myself today? Or is today's myself the same poet who wrote with certain musics until now, and will I have to write in those musics, which may by now be utterly tedious, again?

It may well be that the self I am today just doesn't want to make the same damned noise. Maybe that noise has become boring. How do I change it? Do I invent a different poet? Do I study the music of different poets from those I've known? Don't I know there all? Besides, if the poems do change, as I say mine recently have, is it really because of some choice? Have I ever chosen the music of a particular poem? Isn't it always rather that the music of the poems seems to choose me? Which me? A choiceless choice.

All right: after all the poetry business, how can an old man speak of life without coming sooner or later to death? Dear death, our faithful lifelong companion. But before I consider death itself, it would be cowardly not to confront the worse-than-death. I mean the other, more dreadful fates that lurk in one's quickly diminishing future: the horror shows of dementia, amnesia, aphasia, even the mostly unremarkable memory loss, the last of which already afflicts me, leaving me occasionally stricken with embarrassment before people I know well whose name all at once isn't there.

The worst of these soul killers, Alzheimer's and its kin, are believed by many of us who work with our minds to be worse than merely dying. It would be pleasant to be amusing here, to find a tone sufficiently flip to distance myself from the terrible implications of this, the way Philip Larkin did it in "The Old Fools." It's a terrifying poem, where old age is characterized finally as "The whole hideous inverted childhood" bur in which Larkin still manages to employ his inimitable tone of detachment, irony, self-mocking--stances I find to be utterly beyond me. My own poem about these matters, I suppose, has quite a bit less detachment:
Rat Wheel, Dementia, Mont Saint Michel (2)
 for Albert O. Hirschman
 My last god's a theodicy glutton, a good-evil gourmet-peacock
 and plague, gene-junk; he gobbles it down.
 Poetry, violence; love, war--his stew of honey and thorn.
 For instance, thinks theodicy-god: Mont Saint Michel.
 Sheep, sand, steeple honed sharp as a spear. And inside,
 a contraption he calls with a chuckle the rat-wheel.
 Thick timber three meters around, two persons across,
 into which prisoners were inserted to trudge, toil,
 hoist food for the bishop and monks; fat bishop himself.
 The wheel weighs and weighs. You're chained in; you toil.
 Then they extract you. Where have your years vanished?
 What difference? says theodicy-god. Wheel, toil: what difference.)
 Theodicy-god has evolved now to both substance and not.
 With handy metaphysical blades to slice brain meat from mind.
 For in minds should be voidy wings choiring, not selves.
 This old scholar, for instance, should have to struggle to speak,
 should not remember his words, paragraphs, books:
 that garner of full-ripened grain must be hosed clean.
 Sometimes as the rat-wheel is screaming, theodicy-god
 considers whether to say he's sorry: That you can't speak,
 can't remember your words, paragraphs, books.
 Sorry, so sorry. Blah, his voice thinks instead, blah.
 He can't do it. Best hope instead they'll ask him again
 as they always do for forgiveness. But what if they don't.)
 What might have once been a heart feels pity, for itself though,
 not the old man with no speech--for him and his only scorn.
 Here in my rat wheel, my Mont Saint Michel, my steeple of scorn. 


But then, again, after everything, death. How death shape changes over the decades. My own most intimate relationship to death occurred in my twenties. Death then was with me all the time, as a threat, and also, as I've said, a companion, a possible savior, but in whatever guise it took, it was there. I remember thinking at one point that the most appropriate title for my first book of poems, the book I never finished writing, should have been The Book of Dying.

It's different now. Death only takes me occasionally these days, and doesn't hang about the way it did then. It comes instead in sudden, dire surges, in which everything is infused with death, flooded away. During those times, usually at dawn when I wake too early, death possesses reality, not as fear, but fact, inevitable, unavoidable, complete. And along with this, or just subsequent to it, I'm jettisoned into time in an unfamiliar way. In that early light, I often find myself ranging restlessly over my past as I never used to. I'm back in my twenties or thirties or even before, taken by spookily animated memories. All the thoughtless and stupid things I said, years ago, decades ago, I find have been dutifully stored in some cesspool of conscience that only now has taken to overflowing, so that my selfishness, my awful insensitivity, all which at the time I thought were a portion of how one was in the world, return with distressing clarity.

The journeys I make through time aren't only in own my life, though. I also find myself traveling through larger cycles as well. I refer a lot in my mind to the far past, to history, and even to pre-Homo-sapiens existence. I keep trying to give credence to the fact that my own personal ancestors were these hairier other humans, the possible lives of which I find so engrossing.

Then, again, more often, I find myself spun out into the future. I obsess about the future much more than I ever did before, much more than I'd like to. What terrible possibilities await us, or, more poignantly and painfully, our heirs. I remember the first time I heard the term "global warming." I felt a chill: it was clear that we, all of us, were involved in a destiny much larger than any we'd ever imagined. The survival of the planet as we know it was going to be our responsibility. These days I think a lot about this, I dwell on its terrible plausibility. Sometimes I can't think about anything else--I find myself too often writing mostly wretched poems about it.

Galway Kinnell has a poem, "There Are Things I Tell to No One." A lovely title, to which in my memory I'd found I'd somehow added a phrase, "But the Poem." Except I find now that there is indeed much, very much, I not only don't tell the poem but don't tell anyone else either. I have a wife I love unreasonably, a son and a daughter, three grandsons and a son-in-law, and many beloved friends. I worry about them, and I don't want to tell those closest to me how dire my vision of the future is for fear of terrifying them. I'm not bringing any news to them, surely, but they respect what I think, and feel, and I'm afraid my anxieties will only intensify their own. There are times I'm almost relieved that I won't have to live to see the worst of it, and others when I almost wish not to perceive what's out there right now. Trying to save our world has become, in America at least, a partisan political issue, contaminated by the cynical cultivation by the Right of willful superstition. I find this to be the most atrocious example of corruption that we've had to behold in our already harrowing historical moment.

The rest of our communal madness goes on, as usual. Watching the news, realizing again how such and such number of people had been killed in one country then another, I wonder how many times in our media-saturated culture we hear that word "killed" spoken, and how difficult it still is to grasp the reality that each occasion represents a person with a consciousness of the mysteries of existence exactly like our own, which will no longer be an consciousness but a void. Horrible thought.

And in its way a childish one. Children think like that, one thing at a time. It takes us a long time to learn to abstract from the instance. But not that long. When he was three, my grandson Sully asked his mother, "When you step on an ant, does it say 'ouch?'" "Ants don't talk," my daughter answered.

"Yes," Sully said, "but does it say 'ouch' in its mind?" We come to know this thing called mind quite early on, and we also at some point much later come to realize how much our minds aren't susceptible to being what we'd like them to be. As I've aged--"matured" I suppose would be the word--I've become more and more aware of the parts of myself that don't arrive at anything like what's implied by that grand term. The older I am, the more I've become aware of how trapped I am in a mind that in its perceptions, its impulses, its emotions is very much still a child's. I've spent so much time, so much labor trying to tame this thing called mind, trying to cajole it to be more reasonable, more sensible, less absolute, less simply silly. But the task seems hopeless because my child's mind, the mind that lurks beneath all the others I like to think determine who I am, experiences the world in brute, crude, utterly unsophisticated systems of feeling and thought: it wants, it wishes, it desires--things, feelings, states of being--and when it isn't granted them to possess, or at least hope for, it becomes depressed, or flies into a tantrum. And, worse, it's not satisfied with halfway: it admits no partials, no gradations, no compromises or concessions. To it accommodations are capitulations, failures, precursors to defeat.

Furthermore, that the world beyond me is not as my child's mind wishes it to be, imagines it can be, is passionately convinced it absolutely should be, throws it into a frenzy of frustration, exasperation, indignation, umbrage, so that I, trapped for so much of the time in this, my mind, am offended, embittered; I disapprove, I sulk, I become petulant. When I look out into that world, when I peer out between my petulance and my sulk at that world that at once lacks, and is in danger--how can it not be that I am fraught? How can my mind not be frightened--not only of the world but also of itself, this child's mind which inflicts the imperfect world on itself?

But then, sooner or later, again and again, I ask myself how can the world's ultimate facticity, the simplicity of it, its purity, not be dimmed, diminished, thrown out of focus, distorted by a surrender to myself, by my helplessness before myself? I see the world as it is, its space, its people, its things; I see it glowing in the astonishment of pure being, yet the emotion I draw from that glow, from that blaze, is worry, concern, anguish; is anxiety, terror, then sadness, then, again, despair, that despair which seems not merely to perceive the world beyond itself, but, in its imagination, to consume it.

And so I mostly shut up about my despair. Sometimes perhaps telling a poem, but mostly struggling to keep it to myself.

As I will here. And return to death, which, in this context, can sometimes be, as I've said, solacing. Not to have to behold the rains stop, the deserts advance, the glaciers melt, not to experience the violence and suffering that may well ensue from such disruptions.

And yet reality, our reality, is here: it beckons, it hasn't lost a bit of its glorious clarity, its colors, its sounds, its scents, those simple miracles which are more miraculous in the complexities that science has revealed are woven beneath them. I desire this world with the unquestioning, unconditional force of a love that forever wends a way through the interstices of disappointment, dissatisfaction, foreboding.

And poetry. It doesn't seem absurd after all to have given one's life to poetry. To have been allowed to participate in the grandeur of its traditions, to have experienced so profoundly so many inspiring poems, so many poet-geniuses, so many glimmers of something greater than anything I could have imagined life would offer, life would be. Even unto death, poetry can go on, will go on.
Writers Writing Dying (3)
 Many I could name but won't who'd have been furious to die
while they
 were sleeping but did--
 outrageous, they'd have lamented, and never forgiven the death
they'd
 construed for themselves
 being stolen from them so rudely, so crudely, without feeling
 themselves like rubber gloves
 stickily stripped from the innermostness they'd contrived to
horde
 for so long--all of it gone,
 squandered, wasted, on what? Death, crashingly boring as long as
you're
 able to think and write it.
 Think, write, write, think: just keep galloping faster and you
won't even
 notice you're dead.
 The hard thing's when you're not thinking or writing and as
far as you
 know you are dead
 or might as well be, with no word for yourself, just that
suction-shush
 like a heart pump or straw
 in a milkshake and death which once wanted only to be sung back to
 sleep with its tired old fangs
 has me in its mouth!--and where the hell are you that chunk of dying
we
 used to call Muse?
 Well, dead or not, at least there was that dream, of some scribbler,
some
 think-and-write person,
 maybe it was yourself, soaring in the sidereal void, and not only
that,
 you were holding a banjo
 and gleefully strumming, and singing, jaw swung a bit under and off
to
 the side the way crazily
 happily people will do it--singing songs or not even songs, just
 lolly-molly syllable sounds
 and you'd escaped even from language, from having to gab, from
having
 to write down the idiot gab.
 But in the meantime isn't this what it is to be dead, with that
 Emily-fly buzzing over your snout
 that you're singing almost as she did; so what matter if you
died
 in your sleep, or rushed toward dying
 like the Sylvia-Hart part of the tribe who ceased too quickly to be
 and left out some stanzas?
 You're still aloft with your banjoless banjo, and if you're
dead or
 asleep who really cares?
 Such fun to wake up though! Such fun too if you don't! Keep
dying!
 Keep writing it down! 


NOTES

(1.) First published in The Massachusetts Review, Summer 2010.

(2.) First published in The New Yorker, April 4, 2011.

(3.) First published in The Threepenny Review, Fall 2010.

"On Being Old": Poetry Society Annual Lecture (May 26, 2011), commissioned by the Poetry Society of London, published in the Poetry Review (Winter 2011). The poems in the essay appear in Williams' forthcoming collection, Writers Writing Dying (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

C. K. WILLIAMS has published many books of poetry, including Repair, which was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize; The Singing, which won the National Book Award for 2003; and Flesh and Blood, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize in 1987. He has also been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the PEN Voelker Career Achievement Award in Poetry for 1998, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA grants, the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin, a Lila Wallace Fellowship, and prizes from PEN and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is currently a chancellor of the American Academy of Poets.
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Author:Williams, C. K.
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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