“Watching the Telly With Nietzsche” by C.K. Williams.

“Watching the Telly With Nietzsche”

“Watching the Telly With Nietzsche”

Arts has moved! You can find new stories here.
A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 17 2012 6:12 AM

“Watching the Telly With Nietzsche”

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Friedrich Nietzsche.

Courtesy the University of Idaho.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear C.K. Williams read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.


Sucking up another dumb movie on HBO it comes to me how boring it is to loll here like a
    boil on an ass.
, not as in Berryman’s “Life, friends is boring we must not say so …” —life isn’t
just thinking of matters which don’t set my teeth on fire and make the dents in my brain
    screech is boring.

For instance: I switch to a news channel and a segment about what a Republican
    president wannabe—
I refuse to utter his name—proclaimed on being caught changing his chameleon mind
    about something:
“Quoting me is lying about me.”
  Now that’s not boring, is it?  That leaps right into your
    vault, no?


A person denouncing his own convictions as possibly being too true?  My god, Nietzsche
(and he was in my philosophical gawk-time all but my god), who growled of our having
    “gnawed at ourselves,”
and “turned ourselves into torture chambers,” wouldn’t have known what to make of such
    conscienceless crap …

Wait, though, maybe as my mother would say I’m over-excited—I’ve always been such a
That political lizard and those like him—so many like him—are hardly the worst things in
    the world.
Think Stalin. Think Mandelstam on his hell-train, shuddering with fever, dying of a line in
    a poem.

And remember how that Dream Song continues?  “After all, the sky flashes, the great sea
we ourselves flash and yearn …” and they do, and we do, but we’re terrified, too,
    sometimes of,
sometimes for, and sometimes we can’t tell the difference, because history shudders and
    Mandelstam dies,

and it can seem only the torturers and tyrants, the venal demagogues and the qualmless
stand firm, gazing out over the hapless rest of us to decide which will be next, which
which flash and which yearning will be dragged down and submerged in their political
    puke …

As I’m dragged down again into the ocean of cathode image-scum pumping out at me
    from the sewer-screen,
rendering me gloomy beyond gloom, not beyond Berryman’s, please, but still, my tail is
fangs are unsheathing in the lining of my heart … Better turn it off—all of it, off.  Jesus
    Christ, off!

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site. Click here for an archive of discussions about poems with Robert Pinsky in "the Fray," Slate's reader forum.

C.K. Williams's Flesh and Blood won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1987. His latest book, Selected Poems, was published in 1994.