Thursday, September 17, 2009

William Carlos Williams

[September 17 is] the birthday of a doctor and poet who wrote, "It is difficult/ to get the news from poems,/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there." That's William Carlos Williams, born in Rutherford, New Jersey (1883). He worked in Rutherford as a doctor for his whole life, and he wrote poetry as well, up until his death at age 80. His books include Spring and All (1923), Imaginations (1970), and a five-volume epic poem called Paterson, the name of the city near Rutherford where he was head pediatrician of the hospital.

Getting to Sleep in New Jersey

by John Stone

Not twenty miles from where I work,
William Williams wrote after dark,
after the last baby was caught,

knowing that what he really ought

to do was sleep. Rutherford slept,
while all night William Williams kept

scratching at his prescription pad,
dissecting the good lines from the bad.

He tested the general question whether
feet or butt or head-first ever

determines as well the length of labor
of a poem. His work is over:

bones and guts and red wheelbarrows;
the loneliness and all the errors

a heart can make the other end
of a stethoscope. Outside, the wind

corners the house with a long crow.
Silently, his contagious snow

covers the banks of the Passaic River,
where he walked once, full of fever,

tracking his solitary way
back to his office and the white day,

a peculiar kind of bright-eyed bird,
hungry for morning and the perfect word.

"Getting to Sleep in New Jersey" by John A. Stone, from Music From Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press, 2004.

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