Mind, Mouth and Page – (Williams and Imagism)

Des Imagistes – An Anthology (edited by Ezra Pound) – Albert and Charles Boni, New York, 1914

Allen Ginsberg on Willia Carlos Williams continuing from here 

AG: “On the grooved drain-board/ to one side is/ a glass filled with parsley -/ crisped green/ Waiting/ for the water to freshen –” (William Carlos Williams)

It’s almost like a little haiku – the sharpness of it. So I thought, is Williams doing something new? or is he doing something that’s traditional and classic in poetry? And it turns out he’s doing something classic when he’s focusing his eyes so clearly, and focusing his senses on the natural object. And so I thought, maybe (we’d) go back and take a look at some haiku. And in the library you have the four volumes of R.H.Blyth’s Haiku. (That book contains) translations from Japanese with the transliteration into the phonetic pronunciation, translations into English of the Japanese, the Japanese texts, the way it sounds in English lettering, the haiku in English (with maybe one or two versions), and an explanation for Westerners for material (that) maybe they don’t know about. So I made a little anthology out of Blyth of the most concentrated haiku

I’m bringing this up to compare with Williams (not so much contrast, but compare) but also to give you a background and to show that what Williams was doing, though he “made it new” (that’s (Ezra) Pound’s phrase – “Make it new”), make it new again, right? – each generation make it new. Williams made it new again. What was done from time immemorial by poets with sharp perceptions (was) done all the way back, centuries and centuries ago, in Oriental poetry. And, in fact, there were tremendous Oriental influences in the early century on Pound and Williams and on their fellow “Imagist” poets (you can see why they were called “Imagist” – they tried to get a natural object as image, and not stray away from the picture. They tried to put it as condensed as possible, as economically as possible).

There were several schools of American poetries that followed from this perception. There was the practice of Pound, his friend (Richard) Aldington, T-E-H-U-L-M-E – T.E.Hulme (a friend and teacher of Pound in London, whose few poems are collected in the back of Pound’s volume, Personae), a fellow, named F.S.Flint , in England, later, Williams, Marianne Moore – all sort of participated, briefly, roughly, in Imagism, in the practice of Imagism. Then a few lesser poets in America picked it up, and kind of sentimentalized on it, and through it, in their editorials (or threw in their heavy-handed emotions), Amy Lowell, among them. And Pound got sick of the whole scene and said that it was “Amygism”, rather than “Imagism”, and got into a big fight which tore up the offices of Poetry magazine in Chicago (Pound had been sending real crisp clear poems to Poetry magazine, including T.S.Eliot’s work, and, I think, Robert Frost’s also – Pound was like a great, energetic collector of poems, like Eero here [Editorial note – Eero Ruttila, editor of Sitting Frog], and a great magazine editor – because he he had this very specific idea about what kind of poems he wanted to assemble as objects for people to turn on to – real clear, crisp poems).

So Pound was beginning his studies of Chinese poetry, because Chinese poetry is written in hieroglyphs – it’s a picture language. And it immediately offers a way out of the English abstract bullshit, because, with a picture language, everything has to be an action with pictures (like a movie), so you can’t get away with total abstraction, like the word “truth”, or “the dim vales of peace” – you can’t write a line like that. (This was what) he was warning against – vague lines like “the dim vales of peace”, “the dim valleys of peace” [Editorial note – Pound’s actual phrase was ‘the dim lands of peace”] , sort of sentimental pop language.

Of course, in Europe, a couple of decades earlier, there’d been the introduction of Japanese prints, which influenced painting – (Henri de) Toulouse-Lautrec and (Vincent) Van Gogh and (Paul) Cezanne, to some extent. The space in Japanese painting had been turning them on, the sharply-defined colors, but the odd space, the odd, almost Cubist, space. And in poetry, it was beginning to turn on a whole phalanx of Western poets. People were beginning to write haiku in English. And, in fact, I think, Pound has a few things he calls “hokku” in Personae. There was a poet from..where was Adelaide Crapsey from? – someone knew the other day – the poetess named Adelaide Crapsey, who wrote very brief, very interesting, poems called cinquains

Student: Rochester

AG: Yeah, Rochester. We were talking about (her) the other night. John Ashbery is familiar with her. In fact, Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder, when they were in Reed College in 1948, when they first met Williams, formed an Adelaide Crapsey Admiration Society – with Lew Welch – there were three members! – because she was one of the few people who had successfully adapted haiku forms into English.

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