Mind, Mouth and Page – (More Williams Discussion – 3)

Ginsberg on Williams continues from here

Allen, continues his August 1975 remarks on the Later Poems of William Carlos Williams.

AG: And so his “pre-art” comment to that (Williams in his “Introduction” to The Wedge – “It could be that my interests expressed here are pre-art) is the first poem of this book (The Collected Later Poems of William Carlos Williams), “A Sort of Song” – a sort of song, so this is “pre-art”, even the title – [Allen reads in its entirety “A Sort of Song”] – “Let the snake wait under/ his weed/and the writing/be of words, slow and quick, sharp/to strike, quiet to wait, sleepless./ – through metaphor to reconcile/ the people and the stones./ Compose. (No ideas/ but in things) Invent!/ Saxiflage is my flower that splits/ the rocks” – Saxiflage is a little flower that grows up in Paterson, New Jersey, that comes up through the pavements, a small, innocent, almost weed-like, “pre-art” (flower) – not a rose, not a lily, not an asphodel, but a flower common to the city streets – “Saxiflage is my flower that splits/ the rocks”, “splits the rocks “of preconception. What he’s done is put together all his ideas, all his main themes and slogans and ideas – “Compose”, “Invent”, “No ideas but in things”, “Let..the writing be of words” (conscious of choosing words of one’s own speech).

Student: I’m noticing this enjambment…

AG: Huh?

Student: Like, in these later poems, he really tightens up with this enjambment…

AG: Yeah

Student: Like, he turned all the verbs, and used the ideas of verbs…

AG: Pardon me? Used ?>

Student: …Used his verbs, like “writing”, “wait”, “sleepless”, and “splits”… Usually there’s an action. The transitions are really intense…

AG: Yeah, I don’t know how conscious he was for the need for sharp verbs (which (Ezra) Pound made a big deal of in his essay on (Ernest) Fenollosa‘s notes, “On The Chinese Written Character As A Medium For Poetry” – Pound there went all out, saying that what was necessary in English was a flood of active verbs and that that was one of the glories of the English language – I suppose Williams would have picked up on that too).

Student: Allen, what did he say about metaphor there?

AG: “(T)hrough metaphor to reconcile..” And I don’t know what he means by “metaphor” there. To the people and the stones. He’s talking about his proposition to write the epic, Paterson, the “stones” in Paterson that need to be split, the people in Paterson, their own minds, through metaphor. The book, Paterson, begins, “Paterson lies like a man in a…” – I’ve forgotten – “..in a valley, his head under Garrett Mountain”. So there’s a metaphor of “Mr/ Paterson has gone away/ to rest and write. If you want to see his thoughts, look in the bus” (“Inside the bus one sees/ his thoughts sitting and standing”) – His thoughts are walking around in the city – “The people” – a large metaphor – “through metaphor to reconcile/ the people and the stones”. And the original archaic sound of the body is the sound of the Great Falls in Paterson. So it’s a lot like one large metaphor. So this is his little proposition for his composition of Paterson – comparing a city to a man, a city like a man, a metaphor. Yeah?

Student: Would you say something about… Well, the word “invent” in that poem somehow strikes me (as) wrong..

AG: Inventing a method of writing

Student: Oh, not the poem itself, but the method.

AG: Well, the poem would be an invention, but an invention like a machine, composed out of the elements of speech, therefore inventing – not really copying the speech, but inventing out of the elements of speech (rhythm and diction) an intenser expression of “ardors”(passions, feelings) than in ordinary speech. But using ordinary speech as the model. So, therefore, invent out of that ordinary speech. And also, “invent” in general (that is the same idea that Pound had been sounding for decades – “Make it new” (or, re-new the language) – or, T.S.Eliot has the same idea in “The Four Quartets” – “Since our concern was speech and speech impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe/ And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight/ Let me foretell the gift reserved for age” – So Eliot had that idea too. I don’t know if you know that passage – “Since our concern …” – he’s talking to his double in his old age – he meets his double on the pavement during an air-raid in London and talks with his shadow (or Dante, actually) – “Since our concern was speech and speech impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe” – to examine, become conscious of, select elements of, and re-compose into high poetry, consciously – “purify the dialect of the tribe/ And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight”

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