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


C.K. Williams' Wait is the latest in his long line of personal and publicly charged poetry collections. Chase Twichell described him as 'one of our greatest love poets', and though there are poems of love, lust and secret desire here,they are outnumbered by the poet's political pieces. 'Wood', a poem about youthful and apprehensive fancy, is followed by 'Cassandra, Iraq', that - as its title indicates - evokes the effects of war, the poet recalling the 'superfluous dead' and the 'gush of gore'. The love poems should not be overlooked; in fact as the poet gets older, his sentimental side seems heightened. Yet the poems in Wait that stand out are the ones with the furthest reach, the ones that stretch to encompass world events and universal themes - war, religion, philosophy, life and death. When the poet does approach love, he personalises it by naming his wife or making the poem specific to himself, and while he captures the moments well, in poems such as 'On the Metro' and 'We', the poems that approach universal themes - with a few literary figures thrown in - are the most accomplished in the collection.

Besides politics, the main theme in Wait is Williams' recognition of his old masters and the philosophical bias that connects them. This is nowhere more present than in 'Jew on Bridge', the final and longest poem of the collection, whose title is taken from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Here Williams questions his own Jewishness ...

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