William Carlos Williams

As a business model fails, forever is pragmatic

In the postal business, there’s a term of art (as it were): the forever stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in equal value to the current U.S. first-class mail 1-ounce rate. The term has been in use for some years, but hasn’t really been relevant until fairly recently. In eras when rates were stable — we all remember the days when the announcement of a rate increase was an event, causing a slight shock and even protest, something for which we anyway had to plan — a “forever stamp” was essentially superfluous.

WCW on television

John Wingate on the air at "Nightbeat" in 1957 (left) and William Carlos Williams in the '50s

I'll bet most readers of this commentary did not realize that William Carlos Williams made a television appearance. Yes, it was September 4, 1957, and the old stroke-inhibited but still feisty poet went to the studios of WABD (New York) and appeared with host John Wingate on a show called Nightbeat. Today we've segmented the audio version of this recording into topics. You'll note that WCW talks about television for 33 seconds, and about Stevenson, Eisenhower and Kennedy for a minute and a half (already anticipating the 1960 presidential election). Here are those segments:

  • on practicing medicine and writing poetry (1:59): MP3
  • on the Greenwich Village poets and separating from the crowd (4:15): MP3
  • on Ezra Pound (5:26): MP3
  • on Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost (3:43): MP3
  • on his links to alleged communist causes and letting people speak (2:51): MP3
  • on television (0:33): MP3
  • on Madison Avenue (0:37): MP3
  • on Adlai Stevenson, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy (1:23): MP3
  • on the place of religion in his life (1:15): MP3
  • on what he would like to be remembered for (0:33): MP3

     

  • 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

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