WCW on WNET

Following on from last week’s WNET USA Poetry feature (on Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti), another episode from that series, this one on Allen’s great hero, William Carlos Williams.  William Eric Williams, the poet’s son, (something of a ringer for his father), is the stand-in (Williams having passed away a couple of years earlier).  He (the younger Williams.) is shown, at home. in his neighborhood, Rutherford, New Jersey, going about his daily routine and continuing with the family (pediatric) practice.

Flossie“, Williams’ widow (and William Eric’s mother), who didn’t die until 1976 – William Eric died in 1995), is featured in some of the sequences. The texts (drawing both from the poetry and the prose – and, significantly, from several of Williams’ letters) are read, on this occasion, by the actor, Arthur Hill.

[It should be noted that the above transfer of this tape includes a couple of instances where the footage is unstable and the image shakes a little. We apologize in advance for that]

Last week, we had Ferlighetti’s dog, here’s another dog, the Williams’.

The profile starts off with Williams’ famous poem – “Smell” –

“Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed/nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?/What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,/always indiscriminate, always unashamed,/and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled/poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth/beneath them. With what deep thirst/we quicken our desires/to that rank odor of a passing springtime!/Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors/for something less unlovely? What girl will care/for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?/Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?/Must you have a part in everything?”

(Here’s a recording of Williams himself reading the poem)

and, following that, the concluding lines of his poem,  “The Flower”:

“…For years I’ve been tormented by/that miracle, the buildings all lit up —/unable to say anything much to the point/though it is the major sight/of this region. But foolish to rhapsodize over/strings of lights, the blaze of a power/in which I have not the least part./ Another petal reaches/into the past, to Puerto Rico/when my mother was a child bathing in a small/river and splashing water up on/the yucca leaves to see them roll back pearls./ The snow is hard on the pavements. This/is no more a romance than an allegory./I plan one thing — that I could press/buttons to do the curing of or caring for/the sick that I do laboriously now by hand/for cash, to have the time/when I am fresh, in the morning, when/my mind is clear and burning — to write.”

{ Footage shows the Manhattan skyline & New Jersey suburban homesWilliam Eric Williams is overseen/overheard talking on the phone (the first of several documentary cinéma vérité sequences)  – apologizing to his wife – “Hi sweetie, how are ya? – okay? – oh, I’m alright, I’m back at the office – yeah – the kid had a little convulsion – everything’s under control now – No, I don’t think so – I’m back at the office I’ve got to get some sterile stuff, you know, my batteries are running low, I’m changing equipment a little bit, but while I’m here I’ll just grab a cup of coffee with Mom, then I’ll go on – ok? – I’m sorry – I’ll try to make it – yeah – okay – I’ll see ya, when I can. alrighty, bye!” ]

William Eric Williams testifies:

“William Carlos Williams was my father. I inherited this office and the practice that he carried on here for more than 40 years. Attached to this office is the house that he and my mother moved into after they were married in 1912. It is in Rutherford, New Jersey, twenty minutes from Manhattan. For two or three years, prior to the onset of a series of illnesses, we practiced together here. Except occasional trips to Europe, this is where he lived his entire life.

My father firmly believed that a man should have roots in the community. I don’t think he felt that Rutherford or the surrounding towns had any special attraction . In fact, in many ways, he felt constricted by the life here, bu tthis is where he found himself and this is where he chose to stay.

This is the house where Dad was born. He lived here briefly, a year or two

This is where he spent his early years before he moved away to attend the University of Pennsylvania

The Rutherford Public Library was designed by his brother, Edgar.

The framed building here on Home Avenue was the Unitarian Church, where he was a member of the congregation for his entire life ‘

Arthur Hill (sic)  then reads (in its entirety) Williams’  poem “Waiting”

“When I am alone, I am happy/The air is cool.The sky is/ flecked and splashed and wound/ with color. The crimson phalloi/of the sassafras leaves/hang crowded before me/in shoals on the heavy branches./ When I reach my doorstep/I am greeted by/the happy shrieks of my children/and my heart sinks./I am crushed./ Are not my children as dear to me/as falling leaves or/must one become stupid/to grow older?/It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels./Let us see, let us see!/What did I plan to say to her/when it should happen to me/as it has happened now?”

[Florence (“Flossie”)  Williams (née Herman) (1891-1976)]

(At approximately seven minutes  in, footage of William Eric and his mother – “Hallo” – “hi Mom” “hi”– “I didn’t expect to find you up this time of day”  – “Well, I heard you come in” – “Uh-huh” –”I thought maybe you’d appreciate a cup of coffee” – “I would –very nice of you, I appreciate it” – What happened? – “Ah! a kid over in Myrtle Street had a febrile convulsion” – “Oh dear! “– “The usual story…”. “Everything’s alright now” _.”The emergency squad was there and had things well in hand by the time I got there” – “I know how it is. Dad [sic] used to get these calls early in the morning”  – (Enjoying the coffee?) – “Yeah Delicious! “- (to dog) – “Good morning, how are you? – did you have a good sleep?  did you wake Nana this morning? ..” –  “He did”– “Yeah?, shame on you!” – ” (He)  jumps up on my bed  and just stretches out across my chest!” – (to dog)  “Shame on you! – my god! ” – That’s his routine! – “Such a baby! ” – “Come on, Get up!” – so – “Everything’s aright?”–  “Yep”    “emergency (is) largyitis” – “Yep – yep…”)

from the Autobiography

“We have lived by the seasons. It is winter that illness occurs here mostly. It is then that a physician’s services are in greatest demand,, Time after time I would start out on ny moning calls after only a few hours sleep and sit in front of some house, waiting to get the courage to climb the steps and push the front doorbell – but once saw the patient, all that would disappear, the hunt was on.

That is why as a writer I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather that it was my very food and drink, the very thing that made it possible for me to write. Was I not interested in Man? There the thing was right in front of me. I could touch it, smell it.

[ More footage of Williams, the doctor (William Eric) on his rounds –  “there’s a good boy” – “I’ll get you some  medications” – “Do you have cough stuff for him?” – “No I better order some more I don’t have too much left “- “So what does he weigh now? – about forty..one-two-three?”  – “forty-three, the most, he’s lost a little” – “ok” – “ok, muscles”, -“I’ll call the store., your phone’s over here?” – “right over here” – “it’s ok” – “alrighty” –  “so this is mine” – “so you’d be taking my bag, you’d be quite silly walking out with it – “Goodbye, Joe” – say Goodbye…” 

At approximately nine-and-three-quarter minutes in, on the audio, Arthur Hill reads “The Last Words of My English Grandmother”

“There were some dirty plates/and a glass of milk/beside her on a small table/near the rank, disheveled bed -/ Wrinkled and nearly blind/she lay and snored/rousing with anger in her tones/to cry for food,/  Gimme something to eat-/They’re starving me-/I’m all right -I won’t go/to the hospital.No, no, no/.  Give me something to eat!/Let me take you/to the hospital, I said/and after you are well/ you can do as you please./She smiled, Yes/you do what you please first/then I can do what I please-/ Oh, oh, oh! she cried/as the ambulance men lifted/her to the stretcher-/Is this what you call/  making me comfortable?/By now her mind was clear-/ Oh you think you’re smart/you young people,/ she said, but I’ll tell you
you don’t know anything./Then we started./On the way/ we passed a long row/of elms. She looked at them/awhile out of/the ambulance window and said,/ What are all those
fuzzy looking things out there?/Trees?Well, I’m tired/of them and rolled her head away.”

11…  “Was the baby weighed this morning?” –  “yes”. – “two pounds and three ounces”  – ” And he was born Friday?” – “Saturday”  “Saturday?  Saturday morning – oh yeah, just before I left the hospital “- “okay -“there hasn’t been any regurgitating, huh?”  – “…regular” “very good” – “amazing, the ones you think aren’t going to do well, all of a sudden turn a corner and do fine” 

Arthur Hill reads “Pastoral”

“The little sparrows/hop ingenuously/about the pavement/quarreling/with sharp voices/over those things/that interest them./ But we who are wiser/shut ourselves in/on either hand/and no one knows/whether we think good/or evil./ Meanwhile,/the old man who goes about/gathering dog-lime/walks in the gutter/without looking up/and his tread/is more majestic than/that of the Episcopal minister/approaching the pulpit/of a Sunday./ These things/astonish me beyond words.”

(Williams, himself reading the poem may be heard – here) 

More footage of William Eric on the phone and at work (his pediatric rounds)  – “I can meet you at the office exactly at one and we can take a look and see, meanwhile, just watch it” – “right Miss B.., bye”  – “right” – “ta ta” – “And now we’re going to…” “Where are you Miss Smith?” – “here” – “hi -‘hi” – “good morning” – “good morning” – “We’re a couple ounces down from yesterday, but alright, ok?” – “ok” – “if there’s any problem, let me know, ok? – and I want the baby in the office about ten days to two weeks.” – “It’s up to you  now”- “Thank you very much”  – “Bye bye” – “thank you, Miss Smith”. – So long!”

Transcription of WCW on WNET continues tomorrow

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