The Counter-Tradition of Williams

William Carlos Williams ( 1883-1963) – undated photo in the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale

AG: So that [“Love Letter”}  was like a real serious attempt to get the depths and solemnity of, you know, a love poem by (John) Donne, (and that was taken to be the idea of death and absent lovers and impatience). But it’s all intellectual pride. That’s where I picked up on that the whole notion, the whole.. I think, the whole project of metaphysical poetry of the seventeenth-century of Donne (because I was good at writing that kind of poetry) did involve, (as it shows here), a certain intellectual pride, sort of a sado-masochistic intellectual pride, and also a closet attitude towards the kitchen-sink aspect of reality. So (I had) to really get out of this kind of closet (which was the kind of poetry that Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, William Jay Smith. had learned from John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and older poets of the (19)30’s and (19)40’s, influenced by T.S.Eliot (who was influenced by Donne, Webster, and these metaphysical poets).

To get out of that tradition, I had to start reading William Carlos Williams and start writing about…” I put an apple on the front porch and nobody’s touched it for a month”,  you know  – [“Perfection‘} –  or some..something about “the plums she left in the icebox I ate, forgive me they were delicious”…  in which “the plums that you left in  the icebox and which you probaby were saving for breakfast. I ate, forgive me, they were delicious”  – “I’ have eaten the plums that you left in the icebox which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious, so sweet and so cold” – [“This Is Just To Say“]

So this (sic – “Love Letter” ) was written in 1947.   1948, I heard William Carlos Williams read in the Museum of Modern Art ,and realized that the poetry he was writing, and the rhythms  he was writing in, were no different from his actual speech, that he was listened to his speech, and therefore writing from that. Because there is a cadence in that “I have eaten the plums” – ” I have eaten/ the plums/ that you left (that were in)/  the icebox/ (and) which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast./ Forgive me/ they were delicious/, so sweet /and so cold” –  There’s a definite cadence to the Williams, if you hear it, as there is to this iron lock, iron-bound hard stanzaic form of iambic measures that are practiced on.

But, I don’t think I would have been as good at open form American measures if I hadn’t really developed an ear here (because there’s not much difference, when you say -“Let not the sad perplexity/Of absent love unhumor thee”.  is not much different from “who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lone-some farms in grand-father night”. See, there’s a very definite awareness in the cadence “who lit cigar-ettes in bom-bom bom-bom bom-bom badda-da boom..”  – bom-bom-bom bom-bom-bom-bom da da-da da.  It’s just a development of the same ear, through more variability, but it is an ear that’s developed from hearing cadence. If you don’t hear cadence, your poetry lacks music., and it’s just , you know, what you got here? – it may be a picture, maybe some witty remark of a vague washed-laundry-on-the-line nature, but unless it’s got (some).refined mind that’s used to the best in cadences and invested in wit in the ear, then nobody is going to be interested. You know, you’ll be writing poems because you’re supposed  to be writing poems, or something…

So then the next thing I did was  ( Do I have to… I don’t have to explain these things. You get the basic ideas) – was….. oh Marvell’s “..Garden” – an imitation of Marvell’s Garden. This was my move –  another campy poem.

[Audio for  the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-three-and-a-half  minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-eight -and-a-half minutes in]

One comment

  1. – I like to begin every day with looking at I find these postings sustaining and enlightening – as if life is allowing me to play ‘catch-up’ with this great poet’s teachings.

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