William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams, 1952

William Carlos Williams
Indiana College English Association Conference, Hanover College, Indiana, May 16, 1952

Morning Program:
Lecture
“Smell!” (Al Que Quiere!, 1917)
from “Paterson Book II, iii” (‘Look to the nul’ to ‘endless and indestructible,’ 1948)

Evening Program:
“Portent” (The Tempers, 1913)
“The Botticellian Trees” (1930)
“Flowers by the Sea” (An Early Martyr and Other Poems, 1935)
“To a Mexican Pig Bank” (An Early Martyr and Other Poems, 1935)
“To a Poor Old Woman” (An Early Martyr and Other Poems, 1935)
“Pastoral” (Al Que Quiere!, 1917)
“To Elsie” (Spring and All, 1923)
“On Gay Wallpaper” (1928)

All poems except Paterson are included in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939. All poems are segmented on Williams' PennSound page.

Yvor the counter-revolutionist

By all accounts, the Stanford-based critic-poet Yvor Winters was prickly. His views on good and bad versions of modernism: usually, the earlier and the more “precise”/imagistic the better. His view on Stevens (the early modernist, detached, comic ironic short stuff of Harmonium was good, the later rhetorically blown-up long-lined essayistic poems, poems made of philosophical propositions, were bad) had a huge effect on a generation of teachers who thought that to teach Stevens one had to teach only “Sunday Morning” or “Ploughing on Sunday.” His view on William Carlos Williams: early short stuff good, late stuff sloppy and imprecise.

Editorial selections from 'Secession'

'Secession' no. 8

Accompanied by editors Kenneth Burke, John Brooks Wheelwright, and Matthew Josephson (often operating under the nom de plume Will Bray), Secession moved in upredictable directions over the eight installments of its premeditated two-year run. Munson writes:

Beyond a two year span, observation shows, the vitality of most reviews is lowered and their contribution, accomplished, becomes repetitious and unnecessary. Secession will take care to avoid moribundity. (Secession no. 1, 25)

Why Williams took Flossie's plums

New audio: William Carlos Williams offers commentary on "This Is Just to Say" (the "rape of the icebox" poem) and includes his reading of his wife's reply to the poem. This is an audio-only clip from the documentary film about WCW's life and work made as part of the "Voices & Visions" series, so you will hear the music put behind an animated recreation of the writing of the note-poem, Flossie's discovery of it and her response to it.

WCW's voice near the end: Green moss

typescript of William Carlos Williams translation of a poem by Li Po

One of my favorite bits of William Carlos Williams’s writing in the last years. It is dated February 26, 1958. On that day WCW sent a letter of Chinese American poet David Rafael Wang. Wang was something of a Poundian (a correspondent of Pound’s — and a bit of a Poundian nut). WCW sent Wang a quick translation he’d just then done of a poem by Li Po, and added a note: “You can't translate it and give its brevity and overtones that are given in the original language.” True enough, but what WCW does I find pretty compelling. Above I’ve reproduced the look of the letter’s page. I've always felt that the voice heard (not heard — pictured) is simultaneously both that of WCW and of Pound and that this letter to Wang was a message to Pound. I haven’t looked in the Wang-Pound papers to see if indeed Wang passed along some word of this to Pound but I’m betting he did.

1999 Symposium on WCW's "To Elsie"

The Pure Products of America Go Crazy

On July 8, 1999, we at the Writers House held our first live interactive webcast. The discussion was all about William Carlos Williams's "To Elsie" (the pure products of America go crazy) from Spring and All. I hosted and was joined by Bob Perelman, Shawn Walker, and Kristen Gallagher. We fielded questions from people watching on the internet, among them Jena Osman and Terrence Diggory.

Williams To Elsie webcast 1999It was streamed as video in RealVideo format and preserved as a video later in the same format. (Those who have RealPlayers installed still can watch the grainy video.) Later we extracted the audio from the video and now we've segmented that audio into topical segments. Here are the segments:

[] Bob Perelman reading "To Elsie" (2:21)

[] Kristen Gallagher on facing alterity (4:30)

[] Al Filreis on the poem's uncertainty (1:54)

[] Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on "the pure products of America" and the issue of control (5:26)

[] Shawn Walker, Al Filreis, Kristen Gallagher and Bob Perelman on Williams' position towards Elsie (6:44)

[] Bob Perelman and Al Filreis on imagination (8:26)
audience comments and Bob Perelman on "peasant traditions" (3:17)

[] Bob Perelman on how the open architecture and "unsuccessful" quality of Williams' poems are relevant to poetics today

[] Al Filreis on Williams' attraction to the new "mixed" American culture

Here is the link to the page with links to audio and video.

PennSound's Williams page includes eight recordings of the poet reading this poem.

Modernism & Domestic Help

Bob Perelman and Kristen Gallagher Discuss

Bob Perelman and Kristen Gallagher on domestic help and modernism (audio): mp3 (3:34).

Male Absence Is the Subject Position of the Poet

A Retrospective Thought on William Carlos Williams

Photograph of "Antique" Plate by Matthew Abess (note reads: "Daddy's Home")

Having internalized the way in which "Young Woman at a Window" (W. C. Williams) beckons toward (a) readers, (b) WCW himself, somewhat mischievously looking in from outside, and (c) the absent, waited-for father, Matthew Abess took to the American road, and found, in Centralia, Washington, a decorative plate for sale, entitled "Daddy's Home," yours for just $2.50. I assume Matt bought it.

She sits with
tears on

her cheek
her cheek on

her hand
the child

in her lap
his nose

pressed
to the glass

At the Ball Game

My Note on William Carlos Williams's Little Baseball Poem

The Poetry Society of America's web site is featuring short pieces on favorite poems. Spring and All is perhaps my favorite poetic sequence, for what it's worth, so when asked by PSA to write about a short poem, I chose the "At the ball game" section of the sequence. I was at the time writing an essay for the Cambridge University Press companion to baseball (my first time ever publishing something in print on the beloved game) so WCW's take on the crowd struck me particularly. (My essay for the Cambridge book is on "the baseball fan," a topic I'd written about several times in this blog.) Here is your link to the little essay on the PSA site.

The baseball fan (3)

William Carlos Williams’s “The crowd at the ball game,” a piece of the famous Spring and All sequence, bothers not at all to observe the game being played. Its power as art derives from “the power of their faces,” and it watches fans watching the game and calls the precision with which they do so beautiful. “The crowd at the ball game / is moved uniformly / by a spirit of uselessness.” There is no meaning or purpose to “the exciting detail / of the chase / and the escape, the error / the flash of genius.” These are “all to no end save beauty.” Williams both fears and loves the convergence of unity and diversity at a baseball game. The potential classlessness of the fans makes the crowd far more progressive than the game itself, thus justifying a poem about baseball that only glancingly mentions what happens on the field. Spring and All generally promulgates aspects of democratic culture apt for the modernist keen to observe fragmentation, cultural breakdown, disarray, and the reversal of traditional subject-object relations (observing the seers seeing rather than simply reporting the seen). The modernist’s fan-centered game bore out Jane Addams’ more overtly political question: Did not baseball belong to “the undoubted power of public recreation to bring together all classes of a community in the modern city unhappily so full of devices for keeping men apart?”

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