Do American poetasters love their William Carlos Williams, or what? They dream William Carlos Williams. Their tails wag when they hear the name, “William Carlos Williams.” At the end of their lives, with their last breath, they cry out, “William Carlos Williams!”
William Carlos Williams is both naked and covered in –isms. He’s everything!
Here’s a typical gushing paean from Curtis Faville on Silliman’s blog— the whole sentiment expressed has become a ritual repeated ad nauseam:
“Williams began as a very traditional poet, writing rhymed poems about Spring and love and delicate ironies. But by the mid-‘Twenties he had pushed into formally challenging constructions influenced by Cubism, Surrealism and the speech of the common people. Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the simple vocabulary and inflections of conversational speech, he was really the first to do it well.
In addition, he managed to throw out all the fluff and lace of traditional cliches and make little naked constructions from the raw timber of American life. They look like scaffoldings, their structure plain and unadorned like a newly framed house. “The pure products of America go crazy”–who else would have thought to write a line as accessible (and telling at the same time) as Williams? Their deceptive simplicity masks a complex kinetic energy which the line-breaks and stanzaic pauses and settings underscore.”
—Curtis Faville, July 2008, Silliman’s blog
Among the chattering classes, sprachgefuhl will take on a mind of its own, but Williams-worship is unconsciously ingrained to the point now where a healthy curiosity on these matters has been bottled up completely.
Faville and his somnambulant ilk are apparently too sleepy to see the contradictions here. We count 13 in Faville’s brief post alone:
- ‘Williams began as a very traditional poet.’ He did, and he was being published in ‘Poetry’ as a very traditional poet with his friend Pound. All but the very gullible will quickly assume Williams was an item not because of his groundbreaking poetry, but because of his membership in a clique. Why would his hack rhymes be published, otherwise?
- ‘By the mid-‘Twenties he pushed into formally challenging constructions.’ Ahem. The Dial Prize in 1926 was Williams’ first real public recognition; the editor of ‘The Dial’ in 1926 was Marianne Moore. The content of the ‘The Dial’ was mostly European avant-garde: Picasso, Cezanne & T.S. Eliot (who won the ‘Dial Prize’ in 1922). Williams was not ‘pushing.’ He was being pulled. He was 43 years old and had known Pound for years—he was finally ‘getting with the program’ and doing what the clique required. Moore won the Dial Prize in 1924—she had known then-Dial editor Scofield Thayer (T.S. Eliot’s old schoolmate at Milton Academy), as well as Pound and William Carlos Williams for years at that time.
- ‘Influenced by Cubism, Surrealism and the speech of the common people. How nifty. ‘Cubism’ (!) and ‘Surrealism’ (!) ‘the speech of the common people.’ Yea, they go hand in hand. Maybe in some pedant’s dream…
- ‘Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the simple vocabulary…’ This is utterly false. Compare any century of poetry with Williams–his vocabulary is not simpler.
- ‘Hardly anyone had thought to make poems out of the inflections of conversational speech.’ Again, false. Robert Browning is far more conversational than Williams. Williams’ poetry is actually less ‘conversational’ than examples from the 17th century.
- ‘He was really the first to do it well.’ Another whopper.
- ‘He managed to throw out all the fluff and lace of traditional clichés…’ Oh-kay… William Carlos Williams personally threw out ALL the so-called ‘fluff and lace’ which centuries of poetry is burdened with. Every so-called ‘traditional cliché’ evaporated before Williams’ magic touch.
- ‘Little naked constructions.’ What are these? Elf robots which dance in poetaster’s dreams?
- ‘raw timber of American life.’ William Carlos Williams as Paul Bunyan…
- ‘They look like scaffoldings’ We are not sure what ‘they’ are. Ideas? Poems? Fragments of poems? By now, of course, it doesn’t matter…
- ‘their structure plain and unadorned…’ Ah, yes. They’re ‘raw.’ They’re honest.
- ‘Who else would have thought to write a line as accessible (and telling at the same time) as… “The pure products of America go crazy.” This is accessible? And telling?
- ‘Their deceptive simplicity masks a complex kinetic energy…’ OK, we’ve heard enough.
Egad! We can quote from this hyperbole no longer.
What’s that? WC Williams’ ghost is a Martian! and he’s beaming radio transmissions of kinetic energy to selected earthlings like Curtis Faville?
Why didn’t someone tell me?
This explains everything!