Saturday, January 3, 2015

Poet and professor Miller Williams: 'When I Am Dead, My Dearest'

The wry poet Miller Williams, who founded the University of Arkansas Press and was father of  singer Lucinda Williams, died Thursday in Fayetteville, Ark., of complicatons of Alzheimer's, reports the New York Times. He was 84.
Mr. Williams was the editor of my first book of poetry, and he called me one day at work to go over my manuscript. He named a few of the poems included and said, "These poems don't interest me at all. Let's get rid of them."
He spoke with such cool authority that those poems suddenly no longer interested me either.
"Yes," I agreed. "By all means, let's take them out."
I wish I could remember some of the nice things he said about the manuscript. But, of course, I can't.
Mr. Williams taught for three decades at the University of Arkansas, and he published 37 books. He delivered a poem at the Capitol for President Bill Clinton's second inauguration.

The New York Times story

When I Am Dead, My Dearest

Sing what you want to sing. Theologize.
Let anyone who wants to lie tell lies.
What will I care, back in the past tense
with no ambition and not a gram of sense,
back where I was before a fear and a wish
joined to form a sort of finless fish
that learned to walk and have lips and smile?
I will go there to wait an endless while,
and neither think that wrong nor wish it right,
more than a rock in darkness hopes for light.
You will say my name, but less with years,
the children less than you and more than theirs.
It's mostly our names, as they fray and thin,
blown on the breaths of aging friends and kin,
that in some tugging moments we may seem
to sleep on a little past the dream.

-- from "Adjusting to the Light," University of Missouri Press, 1992.