Saturday, May 1, 2010

W: What Oliver Stone Didn't Tell You

C.K. Williams, A Dream of Mind. Edward Hirsch calls Williams a "poet of disquietudes," an assessment I find myself in agreement with, but for different reasons. No book that I've read in many a year agitated me quite as much.

When I read "History," for instance, in which Williams, no doubt pursued in a dream by a giant thesaurus, finds himself "in danger, at peril, at immediate, furious, frightening risk," I caught Barkley unsuspectingly across the snout with the rolled book, wagging my finger & shouting over & over about the needless repetition, the redundancy, the senseless repeating of the same idea in different words. Even a stray dog should know better, I scolded. No, Barkley wasn't the one who in the very next line "evaded the risk, eluded the danger, . . . conned the peril," but he fled the room anyway, tail between his legs, whimpering.

Before I could apologize to my imaginary pooch, albeit still wronged, the situation worsened. As I read "Helen," a 10-page poem divided into 5 sections, not even the rain could stop me from heaving a perfectly good living room set onto the lawn. Crazy? In my defense, the sofa was a little worse for wear, though not nearly as bad as the 1st section of this poem, in which Williams takes 12 to 24 lines (it depends on how you count them) to say, if I may summarize, "She tried to speak but started to cough."

In fact, throughout this poem, we discover very little about the title character, other than she was married to the speaker; once timid, she became sensual; later, she got sick &--spoiler alert--died. The poem seems more about the speaker--an acceptable narrative strategy, I suppose, except we mostly learn that he's dull & self-absorbed. Which, if this is the same speaker who delivered "Soliloquies" earlier in the book, I'd pretty much gleaned that tidbit of information already.

Ironically, I could go on & on about his verbosity, but that alone isn't what turned me into some sort of cartoon caricature of raving lunatic Glenn Beck, who, by the way, is a cartoon caricature of himself. No, that's not it. What I'm complaining about has merit; Beck is full of shit.

If I were to narrow my criticism of this book, I'd focus on the lack of imagery. The book's title section consists of 30 pages of Williams analyzing, inspecting, reflecting on dreams, which he does almost to the complete exclusion of images. This strikes me as odd--it also makes me angry, but who hears my Munch-like scream in the blogosphere? One dreams not verbally, but visually. In fact, when most people recall their dreams, they remember bizarre images. I would expect a poet writing about dreams to delve into the surreal & symbolic, to make hunger a skinny buffalo perhaps, or to show inner drive as a dark blue Delta 88. Given a world in which all things are possible, the closest Williams comes to images, strange or otherwise, are such weak examples as "bridges of innocence" & "shells of fearful insensitivity."

When I think of Williams, I think of William Carlos Williams & his oft quoted axiom, "No ideas but in things." Instead, as if the weird love-child of Edward Lear & Edward Cayce, C.K.Williams gives us such lines as:

I dream a dream of method, comprehending little of the real forces or necessities of dream,
and find myself entangled in the dream, entrapped, already caught in what the dream contrived,
in what it made, of my ambitions, or of what it itself aspired to for its darker dreaming.
("The Method")

When I bought this book during the past millennium, I enjoyed it. To be sure, Williams has written some outstanding poems ("The Question" remains a particular favorite). So what has changed my opinion of the collection on the whole? Have I, as I've grown older--gracefully & ever so slightly--become infinitely wiser? I don't know, maybe, sure, I guess so.

18 comments:

Riley said...

Well, not having read the entire book but only your cherry-picked passages, I can only say I couldn't agree more. Hell, I've read philosophical works translated from German with more evocative imagery. I definitely come down more on the WCW side of things in this debate.

Matt Morris said...

To be fair, CKW uses imagery throughout much of the first half of the book, but starting with the 3rd section, you'd need a finely tuned search engine to find anything remotely resembling sensory detail.

As always, thanks for your comments!

helen said...

I started to write a comment earlier, but began coughing. Fortunately, I didn't die, so now I speak in defense of "Helen." Helens--other than Helen of Troy, for whom I was obviously named despite the family tradition that I was named after my aunt with the six kids--are dull, pathetic creatures with bad knees and deadly coughs. Didn't Poe's Helen die coughing, too?

Matt Morris said...

Thanks for the comments. Actually, I believe you're thinking of Poe's "Annabel Lee," who died from angel-induced pneumonia, so I imagined she coughed quite a bit. As for Poe's "To Helen," you probably confused "those Nicean barks of yore" for some sort of bronchial infection.

Zack said...

I like "The Method." I think I understand your anger, too. In the context of a work of prose, this seems like a potentially fitting epigram. It's not what I would consider poetry, though (not that I have the right to poetic philosophy)

. . . One thing's for certain, Breton (Andre the Surreal Seal, or SurrEAL, not to be confused with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3A6V_tEH9s) would be pissed.

On an unrelated note, this is the fourth time "flounce" has been the picture for word verification.

Zack said...

epigraph*

I'm not sure what I meant in the first place, but correcting the typo seemed the right thing to do.

Word verification: niumi

[That's what I'm talkin' about]

Matt Morris said...

Thanks, Zack. What about "Method" do you like? You weren't thinking of Method Man, were you? In any event, you have every right to a personal poetic theory, which, as the immortal poet of Animal House, Bluto Blutarsky, would say, "Don't cost nothing."

Zack said...

I can relate to it. Though, still, I would consider it a guilty pleasure, unlike my fondness of Method Man, whose beats is so fo' sho' that it would take countless turntables to scratch for any revision. What does that even mean? Just a thoughtless pun that doesn't entirely work. Boy, I'm good at those.

I think it's unfortunate that Williams' words are in the format of what he considers poetry. If I were to read his "poem" in the context of a human interest article featured in Time, I think I would appreciate it more.

I think his thought is somewhat beautiful in its dull meaninglessness. If only he had you to write in disquieting red pen, "Use more sensory detail!" I think he could have something.

Matt Morris said...

More sensory detail? CKW doesn't use any sensory details when he talks about dreams!

Zack said...

Point, Matt Morris.

Matt Morris said...

Would it be polite to? Point, that is?

Zack said...

Declarative; not imperative.

Matt Morris said...

Poetry is imperative.

Zack said...

What I said wasn't poetry.

Matt Morris said...

Take a cue from Jack the Dripper: Anything the artist spits is art.

Zack said...

I'm no artist...



And yes, I just like prompting your seemingly endless references of wisdom.

Matt Morris said...

You are an artist if you allow yourself to be so.

Zack said...

Haha. Never a disappointment.