Al Filreis convened Imaad Majeed (in Colombo, Sri Lanka), Irene Torra Mohedano (in Paris, France), and Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué (in Chicago, USA) to talk about William Carlos Williams’s “By the road to the contagious hospital,” the well-known first poem in the disjunctive, manifesto-like, nonsequential sequence called Spring and All, first published in Paris in 1923. Was this a poem recalling the recent, desperate time of the Spanish flu pandemic? Can “Spring and All” teach us something about our own birthing springtime, emerging eerily without us this time around? Why is this poem taught in medical schools? How lifeless is a thing “lifeless in appearance”?
William Carlos Williams wrote in his introduction to The Wedge (1944) that “[a] poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words”; or “poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” A poet and physician, Williams is most known for plums, the everyday, and minimalistic, rhythmic meter and lineation.
Scholars and critics too initiate “transpositions.” Even a casual observation can make a familiar poem appear in a new light, for example when Helen Vendler wonders, in her review of Wallace Stevens’s Selected Poems, what we would make of “The Snow Man” if it had been called “Stoicism in a Failed Marriage.” Sometimes such interventions go further, transforming our ideas about not only what a poem means but what it does and even what it is.
On November 11, 2008, the Kelly Writers House hosted a program called “William Carlos Williams and the Women: The Legacy of WCW at 125.” Sarah Dowling, Jena Osman, Pattie McCarthy, and Michelle Taransky. Here, above, is a portion of the video recording of this event — Jena Osman’s talk on sentimentality and objectification in Williams’s imagism.
In her brief story “She Unnames Them,” Ursula K. Le Guin recasts Eve the primal mother as a primal liberator subverting the process of Adam’s animal-labeling. Bio-artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is pursuing a related task, engaging in acts of transgenesis, regenesis, and intergenesis via computer simulations and 3D models of newly proposed creatures. Ginsberg is a self-declared Artist of the Sixth Mass Extinction, a designer instead of a protector of biodiversity, a conservationist who works via novelty rather than nurturance.
Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics is an investigation of the appearance of the word trouble in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music. It is a book-length project, comprised of three parts, each broken into modular chapters, or Trouble Songs, which build on one another as a series of albums, but are also intended as remixable and programmable singles. What follows is a compilation that spans those three parts.
The most compelling feature of William Carlos Williams’s poetry, for me, has perhaps always been the complex tango of virility and fragility that fight it out in his deeply autobiographical poetry. The idea that man could be both potent and capable of great frailty was a fact of his work that resonated with the vigorous and clumsy youth I was when I first encountered his work. Williams traces the deterioration and ultimate betrayals of his body in his poetry, reflecting on both the particularities of his condition and the universals of aging.
Fred Wahwas born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1939, but he grew up in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. He studied music and English literature at the University of British Columbia in the early 1960s where he was one of the founding editors of the poetry newsletter TISH. After graduate work in literature and linguistics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and the State University of New York at Buffalo, he returned to the Kootenays in the late 1960s where he taught at Selkirk College and was the founding coordinator of the writing program at David Thompson University Centre. He retired from the University of Calgary in 2003 and now lives in Vancouver. He has been editorially involved with a number of literary magazines over the years, such as Open Letter and West Coast Line.
Douglas Storm has made a recording of himself performing William Carlos Williams’s Kora in Hell: Improvisations. The recording is 1:46:13 in length and has been divided into thirds (LINK). Because Williams republished the book in 1957 without the original preface, Storm begins his reading after the preface. Thus the opening is this: “Fools have big wombs. For the rest? here is pennyroyal if one knows to use it. But time is only another liar, so go along the wall a little further: if blackberries prove bitter there ll be mushrooms, fairy-ring mushrooms, in the grass, sweetest of all fungi.” The full text of Kora is available here (among other places) at the Internet Archive.