William Carlos Williams

A short interview with Fred Wah

Fred Wah was 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.

On reading & teaching the modern long poem, with reference to Williams's 'Paterson' & two passages from Eliot's 'The Waste Land'


Eric Alan Weinstein and Al Filreis spent some time in the Wexler Studio of the Kelly Writers House talking about the problematics of the modern long poem.

'Kora in Hell: Improvisations,' the audio

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.

Poetry, art, and multilingualism

Broadcasting Tlingit

Inert, by Nicholas Galanin. 2009, Collection of the Burke Museum, Seattle
Inert, by Nicholas Galanin

Earlier this summer, I met up with my friend Gregory Laynor at the corner of 14th and Union in Seattle. We walked down to the Frye Art Museum to see the show Your Feast Has Ended, which featured the work of Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin, and Nep Sidhu. The show had been getting a lot of interesting reviews, and the posters advertizing it, which we were seeing all around town, featured a taxidermied wolf. In the picture the wolf looked distressed: its back half was flattened, splayed out as a rug. But its front half was stretching forward and flexing its paws. It looked like it was trying to get up.

Twelve poets each teach a poem to high-school students in 20 minutes

Video and audio recordings at PennSound

In 2009 and again in 2010, I invited six poets — each year, so twelve total — to teach one poem each to high-school juniors and seniors. Each session lasted twenty minutes. And we preserved all twelve sessions as video and audio recordings. Go here to watch or listen to them. The poems were:

1. John Ashbery, "This Room"
2. Erin Moure, "The Frame of the Book"
3. Harryette Mullen, "Trimmings"
4. John Keats, "[This living hand]"
5. Yvor Winters, "At the San Francisco Airport"
6. William Carlos Williams, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"
7. Lorine Niedecker, "[I married...]"
8. Robert Creeley, "The Sentence"
9. Helen Chasin, "The Word Plum"
10. Frank Sherlock, "Wounds in an Imaginary Nature Show"
11. Harryette Mullen, "Zombie Hat"
12. Basho, selected haiku; John Ashbery, "37 Haiku"

Geomantic riposte: 'The Invisible Library'

Paul Wilson was born in Lacombe, Alberta and in addition to his five collections of poetry, has contributed to his city of Regina, Saskatchewan and beyond as a key cultural worker, editor, and publisher.

William Carlos Williams: A portrait reveals (the painter felt) his dark Caribbean features

Scott Peterson, an ophthalmologist, was a student in my open online course on modern and contemporary poetry last fall (“ModPo”). We studied William Carlos Williams’s poem “Smell!” in that course, and naturally there was a lively discussion of WCW's nose and its various meanings and functions. Scott then told me that since college he has been passionate about collecting Williams-related items. His undergraduate work on Paterson was published “way back in 1967,” as he puts it. Among his Williams holdings are a bronze bust of the poet (Scott cannot remember the artist’s name) and Emmanuel Romano's well-known portrait in oil. Scott has kindly given me permission to publish images of the sculpture and the painting.

Paul Mariani in his biography writes several informative paragraphs about Romano's painting — and the brief connection between the painter and the poet. Williams sat for the portrait in September of 1959. One of Romano’s reasons for doing the portrait was to get Williams to write a statement about his paintings for a one-man show in New York scheduled for that December. Mariani notes that in this painting the poet's “face was angular, almost fractured in a style recalling Cezanne.”

In Williams's poem “Self-Portrait” written in 1959:

No time for any-
thing but his painting.

Romano wrote in his own diary (entry of September 27) that he was “disturb[ed]” by “the reflection of the light in [WCW’s] eyeglasses.” Take the glasses off, the painter thought, and he would lose the look of “boyish enthusiasm” and would also lose, Romano felt, the look of the poet’s mother's “silky independence” and her dark Caribbean features which the painter felt “revealed themselves” in the portrait.

Williams in the mail

WCW stamp.
WCW stamp.

Mail received the other day from Joe Milutis, who Skyped into my William Carlos Williams class to talk about Paterson and the work he’s been doing on the impressively audio-rich and intertextual blog New Jersey as an Impossible Object.

Visualizing Paterson

Question gallery.
Question gallery.

Our first week on Williams’s Paterson we began by constructing a question gallery. First, come up with a question about some key detail of the poem. Second, come up with a quesion about some formal element of the poem. Third, come up with a question about a larger question raised by the poem. Once the questions have been pinned to the wall, used colored post-its to annotate, respond to, and further question the questions.

The MLA does not support the variable foot

Asphodel flowers.
Asphodel flowers.

By the time we got to the long, apologetic love poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower in the Williams class, I was beginning to worry about the relatively short amount of time we had spent on the variable foot.

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