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Book Review: 'Writers Writing Dying'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Death isn't usually a subject we take lightly. But reviewer Tess Taylor says poet C.K. Williams has done an admirable job of toying with it in his new collection "Writers Writing Dying."

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: How do we cope with the certain knowledge that each of us will eventually die, that all of us will? Looking at it straight on might be too daunting, so if you're C.K. Williams, you glance sideways at death through poetry. Williams' recent book of poems, "Writers Writing Dying," is a series of jaunty and surprisingly cheerful meditations about being mortal and about how being a reader can help us cope.

Williams' admiration of Walt Whitman shows in long-legged lines that spill across the page, twisting and pulsing with his thinking. Poems have rueful, sometimes goofy titles like "Vile Jelly" or "Watching the Telly with Nietzsche." Although they're about things as various as cancer or impotence or the death of his grandfather years ago, they're also about reading and writing and wanting to read and wanting to write. They're about desiring the kind of experience that lifts us out of boredom or depression or absurdity and into something transcendent. It's this kind of experience Williams claims he's hooked on, or as he puts it, whacked by.

But Williams doesn't just love poetry for the high. Poets and philosophers and artists follow Williams around in his poems, sneaking up on him, arguing with him, teaching him things. Basho and Yeats and Auden and Larkin and Warhol and Camus all emerge amid grandfathers and diseases and memories to give life some shape, some way of being known at all. Anyone hooked on reading will feel a kinship with this kinetic book. And I'd imagine that many writers will know just what Williams means when he begs the fates for just one more poem.

In the book's title poem, he writes, think, write, write, think. Just keep running faster and you won't even notice you're dead. Then later, 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.

CORNISH: The words of C.K. Williams from his latest poetry collection "Writers Writing Dying." Our reviewer is poet Tess Taylor.

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