Saturday, January 7, 2012

only the poem

"How shall we get said what must get said?

Only the poem."

writes physician-poet william carlos williams near the opening of his poem the desert music.

outside, fat flakes of snow are falling, the first of the winter season, and inside i'm reading and re-reading the desert music and listening to steve reich's piece set to williams' text. a blissful two hours of reading, writing, and listening, warm inside, cold outside.

funny how one day you ask a question and the next day you get some sort of answer. today i read this about williams on the poetry foundation website:

"From the beginning," disclosed Linda Wagner, "he understood the tradeoffs: he would have less time to write; he would need more physical stamina than people with only one occupation.... [He] was willing to live the kind of rushed existence that would be necessary, crowding two full lifetimes into one,... learning from the first and then understanding through the second."

williams is one of those poets with which i feel a great affinity. i often fall in to the triadic line--i love the idea of two lives in one--i love the caretaker poet, --the crooked, greeny flower, --beauty emerging from the rubble of apocalypse,--the experimenter,--the americanist--the poet who dictates terms from which he cannot depart, no matter how his poems are received.

(in the poem, on his way to texas, williams passes through yuma, julie's hometown, and a town i have visited twice, once for a high school swimming meet and once on my honeymoon when our car broke down on the way to san diego. we spent a night at the space age motel in yuma.)

in texas, some tourist recognizes williams as the famous american poet:

"So this is William

Carlos Williams, the poet .

You seem quite normal. Can you tell me why? Why

does one want to write a poem?

Because it's there to be written.

Oh. A matter of inspiration then?

Of necessity.

Oh. But what sets it off?

I am he whose brains
are scattered

my favorite thing in this passage is the ambiguity around the reply "of necessity." is inspiration necessary to the poem? or is the poem written of necessity "because it's there"? does what is there necessarily get written (it is written)?

i feel the powerful poetry of those brains "scattered aimlessly." i feel that necessity of making the world look at what is there. necessity is one of the only answers that makes sense, though the poet is so often accused of her irrelevance.

no. she is not. irrelevant, i mean.


if you don't feel her/it's necessity, you should work on that, because your soul is in danger of a gangrenous death.

don't think i'm being hyperbolic. i mean it.

it's also comforting that williams, in his first thirty years of writing, made 132.00 from his work, and received very little major recognition. and yet he continued to work according to the calling he had listened to, according to the dictates of his conscience. poems emerging on prescription pads, following the material of his own lived life, in the world of the physical body, the births and deaths, the illness and poverty he witnessed.

and then, the closing stanzas made me cry:

I am a poet! I
am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed

Now the music volleys through as in
a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all
about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
seeking to become articulate .

And I could not help thinking
of the wonders of the brain that
hears the music and of our
skill sometimes to record it

it's so beautiful that williams knows the "wonders of the brain" as both a physician and as a poet. his double life inspires this desert girl today to continue attempting to crowd "two lifetimes into one" with faith and vigour.

p.s. legwear=snakeskin jeans, day two. a little baggier today. i don't love wearing jeans, but it's cold out, and i'm wimpy about cold these days.


  1. FANTASTIC post, L. Those lines made me cry, too. And I must ask: how did you manage to have some hours to write on a Saturday?

  2. the kids had a looooong playdate, then c took mo on a loooong errand, lula went shopping with aunt bonnie, the big girls woke up around 2 pm. it was very quiet. oh, and bonnie and lula helped me fold TEN loads of languishing laundry, so that saved me at least an hour, maybe more.