WCW

The poem is remembering me (PoemTalk #30)

William Carlos Wiliams

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Two tried-and-trues among the short poems of William Carlos Williams, as chosen for our 30th PoemTalk by Robert Grenier, who has been thinking about his WCW for many decades. First the metaphorical anti-metaphor of ocean and plant in “Flowers by the Sea”:

When over the flowery, sharp pasture's
edge, unseen, the salt ocean

lifts its form—chicory and daisies
tied, released, seem hardly flowers alone

but color and the movement—or the shape
perhaps—of restlessness, whereas

the sea is circled and sways
peacefully upon its plantlike stem

And then, seemingly quite different but just as classic an instance of early modern condensation, “so much depends” (“The Red Wheelbarrow”):

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman (Grenier once taught the latter poet at Berkeley, by the way) joined Al Filreis to speak with Robert Grenier about why and how he is always in the act of remembering these poems – or, as he puts it near the start of our talk, how the poems are remembering him. “Those words return,” says Grenier.

Al asks Bob P. and Charles to comment on the poetic relationship(s) between Grenier and Williams. Bob P. remembers Bob G. on Williams as fundamentally as Bob G. remembers his WCW. Grenier has always dwelled on the short vowel sounds emanating outward from “chickens.” It’s about farming and the social aesthetic and other big topics, but it’s also, says Bob P., about the patterning of words’ sounds. This was what Grenier had already taught us, years ago.

The group, prompted by Al, discusses the autotelism of “Flowers by the Sea,” and, for Charles, both poems have a “specific autonomy.” When Charles admiringly isolates the line “edge, unseen, the salt ocean,” he is put in mind of a Larry Eigner and of a possible lineage running through WCW to Eigner. He is implying there a place for Robert Grenier in that line, of course, since Grenier, at the time this session was recorded, was just then anticipating the publication of his four-volume edition of Eigner’s poems.

We discuss what WCW meant when he said of the more famous of our two poems that it was “the same as a thing of beauty.” The red wheelbarrow as locating a rewriting of Keats’ “Endymion”! “It an injunction,” says Grenier, “to pay attention to something because of its moral value. And it directs you to what is in the fact an image, in itself, as an image…. Words being composed as letters, as a composition of successive shapes. It only happens because of the conjured quality of the form.”

WCW in SL

At left you see my avatar, Alf Fullstop, preparing to lead a seminar in the virtual Kelly Writers House in Second Life this coming Thursday evening.At left you see my avatar, Alf Fullstop, preparing to lead a seminar in the virtual Kelly Writers House in Second Life this coming Thursday evening. The poem on the wall, WCW's "Between Walls," is the third of three poems I'll be teaching.

Who shall say I am not the happy genius? (WCW)

William Carlos Williams, "Danse Russe"

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,--
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
again the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not

The Williams who torques sentences

The William Carlos Williams that motivated a young Robert Creeley was The Wedge of 1944. For Ron Silliman and--he suspects--others among those who "became known as Language Poet[s]"--the key Williams was to be found in Spring & All (1923). They found it in the 1970 Frontier Press edition.

Silliman believes that one of the important distinctions between the Language Poets and earlier avant-garde generations was their "different reading" of Williams - their Spring & All-centered reading of him.

PoemTalk starts talkin'

I am the host of a new podcast series called "PoemTalk." At least we think it'll be a new series. On August 2, we recorded a pilot show and now friends and colleagues are having a listen. Once we've heard their responses, we'll decide whether we will go ahead. The plan is to produce a new show every two weeks, beginning in September. In each show I introduce and play a PENNsound recording of one poem, and then I, with three guest poet-critics, discuss it, its influences and manifestations, for about 30 minutes.

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