C. K. Williams has long been our bard of secret shame, of psychological rupture, of the gaffes and faux pas that illustrate in small the disaster of being human—and who does not learn forgiveness by starting with venial sins? (You feel that he worships not Whitman but Erving Goffman.) Williams has remained a bleaker and more lurid version of Frost, with self-loathing added. His vignettes seem to occur by accident—they just happen, like the instigations of malign Fate. A child asks a grieving family an unforgivable question; the poet sees a deformed thrush the mother bird will soon abandon; something unsaid passes between a man and woman on the Métro: such moments lie outside the customary, cushioned life. In that instant of guilt or mortality or regret, Williams has discovered his ground —he dwells on things, then grinds them into poems.

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