Remembering C.K. Williams

Matthew Dickman

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I first met Charlie Williams during a poetry festival at Sarah Lawrence College the summer my first book came out. I was there with my brother Michael and our poetry mentors Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar. I was excited and nervous to meet this man who had written so many poems that seemed to, and did, affect my life: how I looked at love and how I looked at every-day grief. I remember standing outside one of the halls, maybe I was smoking a cigarette, maybe I was drinking coffee and trying to decide which reading I might go to when I heard Joe and Dorianne call my name: “Matthew! Get over here and meet Charlie.”

I was frozen for a second and then grabbed all my nerves up into my hands and walked over. What I couldn’t know at the time was that I was walking over not only to meet a great poet but to enter a kind and benevolent friendship. From then on Charlie became a mentor, on the page, through emails and letters as well as the too brief and not often enough visits to his home in Hopewell, NJ. I knew Charlie was sick, had been sick for a long time, my brother Michael would call after visiting Charlie or meeting him for coffee in Princeton, to pass along a hello from him and to tell me how Charlie seemed: tired or not, thin or not. Still I don’t think I ever considered that he would die. And that is my own insensitivity, that’s my own eight-year-old self not wanting any man who has ever come close to treating me in a fatherly way to die.

Charlie is not on this planet anymore and so I feel the planet spinning a little faster, a little more out of control. I will miss him terribly, this man who once wrote “I’m working as fast as I can I can’t stop to use periods/ sometimes I draw straight lines on the page because the words are too slow/ I can only do one at a time don’t die first please/ don’t give up and start crying or hating each other they’re coming/ I’m hurrying be patient there’s still time isn’t there? isn’t there?” -Matthew Dickman


From our Premier issue……




A tall-masted white sailboat works laboriously across a wave-tossed bay;

when it tilts in the swell, a porthole reflects a dot of light that darts towards me ,

skitters back to refuge in the boat, gleams out again, and timidly retreats,

like a thought that comes almost to mind but slips away into the general glare.


An inflatable tender, tethered to the stern, just skims the commotion of the wake:

within it will be oars, a miniature motor, and, tucked into a pocket, life vests.

Such reassuring redundancy: don’t we desire just such an accessory, faith perhaps,

or at a certain age to be comforted, not daunted, by knowing one will really die?


To bring all that with you, by compulsion admittedly, but on such a slender leash,

and so maneuverable it is, tractable, so nearly frictionless, no need to strain;

though it might have to rush a little to keep up, you hardly know it’s there:

that insouciant headlong scurry, that always ardent leaping forward into place.