WHY THE ROMANCE FOR MODERNISM?

Mmmmm.  So much depends upon a good cigarette….  

20,679 physicians say William Carlos Williams is less irritating!

Take your Remington typewriter with you!  It’s portable.  Oh, and bring along your portable William Carlos Williams, too!

Hey, fellas, if you want to impress that special someone, remember to always carry your William Carlos Williams for that special moment!

Nothing makes you look smarter than a slim volume of free verse!

After a hard day on the trail, I like a hot bath, a hearty meal…and William Carlos Williams!

Taste that modern poetry!   Smooooooth.

Ahh, the smell of leather, pine soap, model airplane glue, and the musty scent of an old hardcover book by William Carlos Williams!  That’s the ticket!

Let’s travel to jazzland!  And let’s not forget our William Carlos Williams!

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10 Comments

  1. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 6, 2010 at 6:25 am

    It’s taken a long time, Tom, but at last you’ve gotten your mind around the Williams that has so bothered you. Because, yes, so much does depend upon a cigarette just at the right moment, just as lighting a stick of incense or lighting a candle just at the right moment draws down the spirit, and lends us powers to bless, pray and rise above ourselves. A red wheelbarrow is just a red wheelbarrow, after all, and a camel just a brash, foul-mouthed camel, rain or shine, but strike a match, take a draw, lift your gaze and let it go, and you’re ready for love or philosophy, spells, mantras, words glazed with rainwater.

    Beautiful illustration too — blows a whole lot my way as well. Leather, pine soap, model airplane glue, and the musty scent of an old hardcover book by George MacDonald, Walter de la Mare, Howard Pyle, Yeats, Millay or Williams. Yes, you’ve got me too. I’m with you all the way.

    Christopher

  2. thomasbrady said,

    March 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Christopher,

    William Carlos Williams belongs to his time, but his time is no more.

    Williams has to be, with Pound, the most overrated poet of all time, and not even because WCW never wrote a poetic word, much less a poetic line; it’s because of this idea that poetry changed signifcantly because of Williams and Pound and Eliot. It didn’t. The Germans in the 18th century and the French in the 19th century and the Japanese in the 17th century did it already. “Modernism” is an advertising word. It’s hype, and yet intellectuals, who are supposed to be so keenly self-conscious about advertising and hype, keep repeating the lie.

    Haiku became big in the West after Japan’s shocking victory over Russia in the 1905 war. Haiku was a big fad, and ‘Imagism’ was a tiny parasite of this fad, and yet Japan gets no credit for so-called ‘modernism’ and it all goes to Pound, the Imagiste, the crackpot pimp, and his amerikan puppet, Williams.

    No one had heard of Williams and Pound until their friends, the right-wing, crackpot, Fugitives put them in a college textbook in the 1930s and writing programs started springing up starting in the early 40s, thanks to guys like Tate, Ransom, Penn Warren (“I’ll Take My Stand” crackpots) and Paul Engle, picked for a Yale Younger by a Fugitive circle godfather.

    Poetry should be a bridge between all ages, all peoples, all disciplines, and instead, it became its own little corporate concern run by CEO John Crowe Ransom of Criticism, Inc.

    Supposedly guys like Ginsberg and Bly shattered the hold of the New Critics. No, they didn’t. No one talks about Ginsberg and Bly without talking about Pound and Williams, and Pound and Williams will forever be stockholders in Ransom’s corporation. It’s a ‘soft machine.’ We’re prisoners of this and we don’t know it.

    Letters has been balkanized and poetry has been exiled to Modernism island.

    Thomas

  3. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 8, 2010 at 5:27 am

    You miss the point of my response entirely, Tom — which had not a word to say about the relative literary-critical value of William Carlos Williams but everything about how we feel about certain past sensory experiences that have such value and even sanctity that just a whiff of them deepens our lives in the present. Like Proust’s madeleine, there are certain poems as well as sounds, tastes and images that conjure up a whole universe of significance and meaning. And no one can cancel that out, any more than anyone can eradicate the evocations of tobacco smoke just by dismissing smoking as a health hazard.

    Almost everything we really love is a health hazard, after all, like life itself, and the more we love life the more hazardous our tastes become!

    ~

    If you want to live in Switzerland, do, but that’s a health hazard too. Everybody knows that cleanliness and order lead to impotence, frustration, and banking.

    ~

    You can be such a kill-joy sometimes, Tom — but this time you blew your cover entirely.

    What I was pointing out in my comment was that the imagery in the Chesterfield article is far more powerful than what it says, and that indeed your whole intellectual position is undermined by the smoke that obviously blew your way too. And you loved it!

    ~

    The Willendorf Venus isn’t much of a sculpture either, after all. Nobbly. Unskillful. Lacking entirely in rhyme or reason, the work of an unknown amateur who probably didn’t even have a road or electricity to his place.

    ~

    “William Carlos Williams belongs to his time, but his time is no more,” you write.

    Well, that’s utter nonsense, particularly coming from someone who would claim “The Raven” is a better poem than any we admire today because it was written when the art of poetry was still valid. Today, you argue, the craft of poetry has been wantonly abandoned, so poetry has nothing more to say.

    The problem is that poetry never says anything to you anyway — it has no voice for you, no significance, no meaning, and certainly no tornado [for those of you who don’t know what that refers to, click here. And also, of course, there’s “Tornado.”].

    A poem is just a trinket for you — and of course, anyone with any education knows the Ming five-and-dime pot is still the best!

    Yes, and back to you on the Willendorf Venus.

    Christopher

  4. thomasbrady said,

    March 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Christopher,

    I did apprecite and understood your point. I think both our positions can exist together: nostalgia with criticism.

    I love this, by the way:

    “cleanliness and order lead to impotence, frustration, and banking.”

    Thomas

  5. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I don’t regard my position as “nostalgic” at all, nor do I feel my position is less “critical” than yours.

    What I meant is that poems that have spoken to us in the past have, like friends, the absolute right to our special attention in the present. Our doors are always open for them, so to speak, and because such poems have already proved their trustworthiness, the critical small-talk can be skipped over.

    However much of a historical accident the elevation of “The Red Wheelbarrow” to its present status might have been, it has now become privileged for most contemporary poets and readers. It doesn’t have to prove anything any more — it simply is.

    Christopher

  6. thomasbrady said,

    March 9, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
    Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old.

    I agree with everthing you’ve said, Christopher, and you said it well.

    What is, is. True.

    We can still reinterpret the past, however, and the past is ongoing. Reputations rise and fall. Other ‘Red Wheel Barrows’ have existed, and now they are gone. Why shouldn’t I tell the story of how this pretentious, modernist haiku made it into the canon originally? I still like hearing the stories behind what ‘simply is.’

  7. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 18, 2010 at 3:11 am

    Yes, no doubt, the tail “simply is,” or the tale for that matter, but to say the whole elephant is “pretentious” based on what you’ve got in your hands makes you look totally blind, and foolish.

    There’s nothing whatever “pretentious” about “The Red Wheelbarrow” until someone pretends it’s something it’s not, and that person certainly wasn’t William Carlos Williams. Which is where the “tale” comes in, I guess — because, needless to say, the poem has most certainly been exploited in a pretentious way by the numerous imitators, poets and teachers, that came after.

    Your evaluations are often undermined by what might be called critical pathetic fallacy, as you ascribe present feelings and developments to inanimate objects in the past. You distort the whole literary-historical landscape by over-stating your case based on your own personal feelings.

    I know you don’t want to reach out for more, Tom, I know you have a mission that is more important to you than the other parts of the elephant, but you weaken your case when you throw out yet another baby with the bath water.

    Oh dear, those metaphors. But still.

    • Wfkammann said,

      March 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      Like trying to breathe a soul into a Golem!

  8. thomasbrady said,

    March 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    So this Red Wheel Barrow is some religous icon upon which I dare not trespass? I say ‘nuts’ to that.

    The apothesosis of this poem springs from the aesthetic philosophy of the New Critics, who did give the stamp of approval to the Little Red Wheel Barrow. I just can’t imagine grown-ups getting so worked up about this little poem.

    Their New Critical philosophy expressly and explicitly posits that whatever can be paraphrased is bad and whatever cannot be paraphrased is good.

    First, this is not a foolproof test, and, second, it makes mystical little poems of image, not to mention confusing poems of great length, the stars of the show.

    I humbly disagree with this philosophy… I will speak to it at greater length, when I have a moment, in my comments on the John Crowe Ransom post…

  9. Christopher Woodman said,

    March 19, 2010 at 3:18 am

    No one ever said “religious icon” but you — never in all my years of familiarity with this poem and the reams that have been written about it have I ever heard anyone describe it as that. Indeed, it’s obviously just the opposite — which is the whole point of the poem, isn’t it?

    What can be paraphrased is usually bad anytime, Tom, but this paraphrase of yours is particularly egregious. Because you’re just trying to make me and the poem look ridiculous.

    “The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923) didn’t make “mystical little poems of image,” people did. Ditto “The Wasteland” didn’t make “confusing poems of great length, the stars of the show,” imitators did.

    Did both get imitated? You bet.

    Was the Poetry Professor partly at fault? Absolutely.

    ~

    I never said religious, I just said so much depends upon. So did Williams.