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This interview is taken from PN Review 198, Volume 37 Number 4, February - March 2011.

C.K. Williams in Conversation Ahren Warner
AHREN WARNER: I've been reading your book of essays Poetry and Consciousness as well as your new collection Wait. One of my favorite poems in the latter is 'Shrapnel', which makes use of language lifted from Ian McEwan's novel Atonement.

In your essay 'Poetry and the Novel' you distinguish between poetry's formal beauty and the novel's 'formal deficiency'. I was interested in your internalisation of formlessness within the form of 'Shrapnel'.


C.K. WILLIAMS: The poem really grew out of those quotes, so in a sense they determined the form of the poem. I think I changed the quotes a little bit to make them fit the line, the rhythm of the line, but not much. It's funny because I always wondered if someone might ask me that question, and there's really no way to answer it. I didn't feel at all that it was in conflict with the ideas of the essay. It was really the music of the language of those quotes that made the music of the rest of the poem.

Your recent collections have tended to mix your trademark long lines with poems made up of shorter lines. Did your use of cited prose effect your choice of the long line for 'Shrapnel'?

Probably. The poem was incited, I guess would be the word, by the technical language about shrapnel at the beginning. The line was determined by those quotes and by the McEwan quotes.
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