Williams has remained a foundational poet for me for decades: the exuberance, variety, and transparency of his formal experimentation; the surprising eloquence amid his sometimes bumptious democratic stylistic affirmations; the complexity of the political-formal negotiations throughout Paterson; his unflagging honesty — there are many ways his writing remains of the greatest interest. However, during the decades I’ve been reading and rereading his work, there have always been the lesser moments in poems I value very highly, the not particularly notable pieces, and even some downright clunkers like “Tract”: “I will teach you my townspeople / how to conduct a funeral —” My intuition is that the problems are quite closely bound up with the strengths.
I was so glad to get your letter. We never did meet at Weequahic Park for lunch but they’ll be other times for that. I used to go to the park every day and write. Each day I’d write a few lines of what I thought was a complete poem. Then I put them all together and called it The Green Lake Is Awake.
Joe Ceravolo’s poems are like the old lady who helps a boy scout across the busy street. They are also like the truck driver who stops his truck to let them cross safely, toots his horn and waves. They are also like the nickel in the boy scout’s pocket that was not bent by being run over by the truck.
Previously published in Kulchur 5, no. 18 (Summer 1965): 105.
I wrote this little appreciation in 1976 for the Poetry Project magazine The World. I’m pretty sure it was the second piece of prose about poetry I had ever done. This was a special issue (#30) of The World devoted to reviews, interviews, etc. For all the poetry written and published around The Project from the late ’60s through the mid-'70s, there was little interest in criticism or poetics, both of which smacked of the Establishment. I know that I absolutely loved the poems of Joe’s that I had seen, the three early collections plus a few in magazines like Locus Solus, Art and Literature, and Big Sky, and I remember wanting to do a lot of quoting.
Joe Ceravolo and I read together at the NYU Loeb Student Center in a Sunday afternoon series organized by Kenneth Koch. Joe read his poems over excerpts from Italian opera played on a small cassette player. I read from a long poem in progress, subsequently lost, that included snippets from that morning’s New York Times Book Review.