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. Check them out! Here is the text of the poem:

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie--
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car