The force of fact (and progress)

Occupy UC–Davis, November 2011.
Occupy UC–Davis, November 2011.

It’s the second week of the Williams class, and I’ve asked my students to blog about Williams the doctor in pieces such as “The Dead Baby” and “The Use of Force.” What does he see, and does he see differently from the Williams of short, sensory poems such as “Lines” or “Smell!”? We seem to be focusing on the notion of empathy, which could be heightened or dampened by the medicalizing gaze. Last week, we ended with the very short 1934 poem “Between Walls” (subject of the first PoemTalk podcast):

the back wings
of the

hospital where

will grow lie

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green

Williams’s poem refuses to pin our sight on one depiction of the hospital: as we discussed in class, it’s never entirely clear whether we’re inside or outside, whether the wings belong to the architecture or to a hovering bird (or otherworldly creature), or whether that bottle signals the absence or presence of new growth in a bleak medicalized landscape. In his  1954 reading Williams really lingers over the word shine, taking the emphasis off the poem’s objects and instead placing it on what they do. 

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