Thursday, April 21, 2005


C.K. Williams, Idol chatter

First: as reported in the Chicago Tribune, C.K. Williams has won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (which gets you not only a handsome parchment or plaque but a check for $100,000.) My response: hooray! Ever since he hit his expansive, Whitmanian groove with Tar in 1983, Williams has been a tremendous poet. His deep feeling for American squalor has earned him a number of detractors--William Logan, the Doctor Guillotine of contemporary verse, has compared his work to "watching a dog eat its own vomit"--but it takes real perversity to overlook his tenderness, psychological acuity, bleak humor, and the gnarled, knobby, reflexive beauty of his language. The recent books, The Singing (National Book Award, 2003) and Repair (Pulitzer Prize, 2000), are less consistent than such mid-career firecrackers as Flesh and Blood. But a poem like "The Hearth," from The Singing, shows Williams at the top of his game, as anguished as ever but more resigned. And Repair does feature a poem about a fart--always a shortcut to the Pulitzer.

Second: American Idol is getting me down. Last night Anwar was kicked off, having failed to persuade millions of idiotic voters to pull the (figurative) lever for him. My 11-year-old son insists that Anwar's eyes bulged out in a funny way when he hit his big notes, and maybe that's the key to his downfall. But one glance at the rogue's gallery of remaining contenders is enough to make me wince. Anthony Federov? Horrible, tastless belter. Bo Bice? He's got a certain shit-kicking appeal, and I like the way he never drags God into his comments, but really, he belongs in a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band. Carrie Underwood? No way. (As my friend Dave keeps saying, "I want her to win, but for all the wrong reasons.") Scott Savol? He's got my sympathy, because he's non-telegenic and because he doesn't imitate whoever did the song in the first place (exception: "She's Gone," but after all, Hall and Oates were sitting right there in the front row, looking as if they'd been preserved in amber since 1982). Constantine (major narcissist, always a good thing in show business) or Vonzell (tall, cute, sounds like Whitney Houston) will probably triumph. It's alarming me that I'm going on at such length, since American Idol itself is a celebration of extruded-plastic mediocrity, but there you go. Who can resist a talent show? Even a depressing, ersatz, elaborately choreographed talent show, where the camera cuts to a Ford commercial after they give somebody the boot and the make-up people swarm the stage to swab away the loser's tears? Not me, apparently. Gee, I guess I'll go read some Wordsworth now.

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