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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”