The capacious flexibility of the Williams' long line, with its constant qualifications and modifications, allows him to track in detail the complex nature of our experience. Never content with a first thought or reaction, Williams probes to get at our deeper motivations. In doing so he makes room for the minutiae of the world; his poems are rich in detail and everyday perceptions that challenge our notions of lyric poetry. This inclusiveness extends to the human subjects of his poems which frequently feature those at the margins of society. He examines the lives of the neglected and vulnerable, the misfits, war veterans and lovers he comes across, with compassion but without succumbing to easy consolations. In their combination of prosiness and sudden flights of high diction, the art of his poems asks questions about the possibility of beauty in a disfigured world. More recently Williams has experimented with other forms including shorter lines, but this tension continues to inform his work, what The Herald Tribune has described as "his bracing scepticism about the claims of art matched to a tangible ambition to make art that matters."
The poems in this selection explore how difficult true connection is in our lives. So in 'The Singing' Williams and the black man whose song he listens to admiringly, cannot overcome the gap society drives between them, despite Williams' desire to do so. The variety of tones in the poem, from comically rueful to exalted, enact that gap, the desire for human communion the poem both acknowledges and denies. In 'Light' the lack of unity is between the human and animal worlds, the poet and the mysterious life of the bats his torch briefly illuminates. In 'The Gaffe' it's the narrator's conscience that takes centre stage as he recalls a socially unacceptable remark he made as a child that still haunts him. Although he wishes he'd never asked the question, it's precisely his willingness to bring such moments to light that gives his poetry its edge. Williams has said "the most interesting thing about a poem is that it doesn't exist until it has its music..." The complexities of his syntax are balanced by an ear for the rhythms of speech as demonstrated in Williams' reading here. His perfectly controlled interpretation allows the listener to follow the subtle thread of his thought as it unfolds, and to negotiate those exhilarating and risky lists of adjectives which give his poems such an immediately recognisable sound, like the bats of 'Light' with their: "cacophonous, keen, insistent, incessant squeakings and squealings".
His reading was made on 16 May 2007 in New York.