“Visiting Dr. Williams is a rich, entertaining gathering of dedications, imitations, corrections revisions, homages, and send-upsall provoked by the poet with the famous white chickens who brought American poetry back home to roost. You cannot visit William Carlos Williams too often; remember he made house calls and would have gladly visited us.”Billy Collins
Visiting Dr. Williams: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of William Carlos Williamsby Sheila Coghill
Loved for his decidedly American voice, for his painterly rendering of modern urban settings, and for his ability to re-imagine a living language shaped by the philosophy of “no ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) left an indelible mark on modern poetry. As each successive generation of poets discovers the “new” that
Loved for his decidedly American voice, for his painterly rendering of modern urban settings, and for his ability to re-imagine a living language shaped by the philosophy of “no ideas but in things,” William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) left an indelible mark on modern poetry. As each successive generation of poets discovers the “new” that lives within his work, his durability and expansiveness make him an influential poet for the twenty-first century as well. The one hundred and two poems by one hundred and two poets collected in Visiting Dr. Williams demonstrate the range of his influence in ways that permanently echo and amplify the transcendent music of his language.
Contributors include: Robert Creeley, David Wojahn, Maxine Kumin, James Laughlin, A. R. Ammons, Wendell Berry, Heid Erdrich, Frank O’Hara, Lyn Lifshin, Denise Levertov, Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, and a host of others.
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VISITING Dr. Williamspoems inspired by the life and work of William Carlos Williams
UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PRESSCopyright © 2011 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA. R. AMMONS
I turned in
by the bayshore
hitting me hard
side the head,
the bay scrappy
way to read
a woman came
her red dog loose
the dead horseshoe
The Carlos Poems
They become kindred spirits
in a land overflowing with ghosts. Kindred spirits in a dying
sun's world.—Adrian C. Louis
The first visit
Hello, William Carlos Williams, you've come
calling, at last! Last night, that dream about
you woke me up! We were somewhere—you said,
"fuck it, break speed limits, blur the landscape."
I remember looking into your mouth. Your
ghostly teeth were glowing like the back of
eucalyptus leaves in a thunderstorm.
But William, how was I supposed to know
that your middle name Carlos meant Carlos,
like the name of some cousins? You, the most
American of poets according
to critics! You, amigo, who upon
seeing the Caribbean for the first
time "wanted to cradle it like a blue
seashell, like any other dumb tourist...."
You were half-Puertorriqueño? Let's take
a walk. Let's walk past the open windows
of undergraduates with shut eyelids.
These poor students have tired themselves out
listening to Belly, Morrissey, Butthole
Surfers, Throwing Muses, Dead Kennedys.
There's a Chicano rapper now, Kid Frost:
no more silence for la raza (Carlos,
that's the people), for any one of us.
You are one of us if only by blood.
Look, William, you still have a shadow, your
many words on many pages. I love
what you asked me in the dream this morning:
"If you must own an aquarium why not
fill it up with expensive champagne?"
Ah, amigo! Already the daylight
chases you away: not yet, por favor!
Unhatted as we are, we dare not
walk any further towards what is
on the next block, and the next, and the next.
You smile at me. I make you remember
something: hunger, youth, time, the need to need.
Adios, goodbye, yes this is right, William
Carlos Williams, a-dios, go back to your God.
The second visit
You follow me to a matinee, sit
in the row behind me; funny, Dead Again.
Carlito, that's Andy Garcia. I
don't know why he is with rich, white people
without them noticing his lovely brown
skin, his blue-black hair, head shaped like a bell.
He is not trying to pass as white; were you?
You did pass as an American, as the
North American. You did publish as an
American, judged the Pisan Cantos
as what an American citizen speaks.
Andy Garcia is fistfighting with
British Kenneth Branaugh over the soul
—and the body that comes with it—of a
beautiful woman. Was Pygmalion
the inspiration for the Statue
of Liberty? William, alive again,
but so are young lovers here in this dark
theater with us, feeling each other up
as if dreaming with eyes and legs open.
A lover (such a lovely word, lover)
said to me: "Is that a revolution
in your pants or are you just happy to
see me?" See how silliness is such an
American patent? Let's go. No, no,
Carlos, this isn't porno. Do you
know the term blue movie? Delicious, no?
English, what a magician you are
on good days. Blue movies make me think of blue
bodies: the waving of blue feet, dancing
blue arms, the rubbing of blue chests and breasts,
the kissing of blue hands. It's not like that;
it's never like that. Let us meditate
on popcorn, the seats, shoes, rows, aisles, curtains,
the American flag in the corner,
ushers, spilled Good & Plentys, screen scratches,
exit signs. Andy Garcia is fading.
The movie is over; then, the sudden
ordinary light of the world, our world,
burns with meaning and power. Look at me
talking to a ghost instead of working.
But perhaps this is my work. What is
poetry if it isn't the public
memory of a night wasted singing?
Carlos, to quote Doris Day, que será,
será. Ser is the verb to be. You were.
I hope to be. How to part from you? Ah,
mi casa es su casa which roughly
translates as my poem is your poem.
The Thief of Poetry
my friend who
was in this
were on it
in with it
getting on with
only passing by
a smell of hamburgers
an old mattress
and a box spring
filling the empty
of a street
in decay of time
it fell out that
there was no
whether out of a wish
to be moving on
willingness to stay
here to stand
had other plans
and now in this
jungle of darkness
the future still makes plans
O ready to go
Conceive of your plight
buried all but the most obtuse
only the most generalized
the low profile
becomes a constant again
the line of ocean
to rise again
drowns the hum
the false point
of the stars
new way of happening
no one remembers
the day you walked a certain distance
along the beach
in your tracks
for the first time
yes but now
is another way of
toward the end
the linear style
though this is
not realized for centuries
another way of living had come and gone
leaving its width
now the tall cedars
had become locked into
so that everywhere
not for colonies
but already closed
turned in on itself
as beautiful as the sea
where you go up
and say the word
all was lived in
had been lived in
was coming to an end
in the featureless present
that was expanding to
this just a little too
and so insure the second
of that day seen against the street
of whichever way
you walked and talked
knowing not knowing
the thing that was describing you
and not knowing
well somehow more informed
as you wind down
only a second
it did matter
you come back so seldom
but it's all right
the way of staying
you started comes back
procession into the fire
into the sky
the dream you lost
firm in its day
reassured and remembered
Of course you ate the plums
she was saving for breakfast,
you were always selfish that way,
and on the weekends
you happily cranked up your Model T Ford
and drove away from the practice, the patients,
the neighbors, your wife,
your wheels crushing the fallen leaves.
You drove right out of your life,
across the bridge and into the city
where everything exciting was,
the women, speakeasies, the jazz clubs,
and you ate it all up
because you knew when you crossed the bridge
again into the familiar streets,
still reeking of sweet wine and smoke,
she would be waiting to take your overcoat
and hat, waiting with the children
in the laundry or in the garden,
she would be waiting to forgive you,
because that's what she did,
and you, you ate it all up.
William Carlos Williams Back in Puerto Rico
Well Jersey is still a yellow place
May comes to with rain washing
chickens and pots of flowers
and New England-delicate rust
and immaculate white beds—
but back in old San Jaun
it's beautiful as a baseball
game or Spanish Jews—I have some
of their blood too—escaping
laughing from the Inquisition.
Here slums are magnificent
baroque and golden red stone,
and what makes me happier than
the Pleiades is the skinny rubber tree
with big boobs and milk under
the skin all out in my back
yard or up in the tropical rain
forest. There pines are friends
and cool even to cranky old men
named Alfredo or Carlos
who walk with shaggy nostalgia
like the poor ascending home
where they listen to the radio,
make love, and iron new clothes.
When the pen pushes down on the pad,
indentations form the hieroglyph believed
by generations to be the finished product
of a brilliant mind. What they don't see
are the half-uttered words clipped short,
scratched out and begun again, over and
over. What they don't smell is the oil
leaking from the car that has stopped at
that stop light just long enough to note
that "so much depends." So much depends
upon a moment, a chance encounter, a
phrase or the way Flossie's plums would
have tasted if only he had arrived in time
to take one from the bowl to his lips,
those same lips that utter the words scrawled
across a pad in the morning, typed and
retyped in the evening. Notice
the trace of a hand that existed once.
Follow where it leads.
Excerpted from VISITING Dr. Williams Copyright © 2011 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Sheila Coghillis professor of English and chair of the department at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Poet Thom Tammarois professor of English and directs the MFA program at Minnesota State University Moorhead.Together they are the editors of Visiting Emily (Iowa, 2000, winner of the 2001 Minnesota Book Award), Visiting Walt (Iowa, 2003), and Visiting Frost (Iowa, 2005).
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