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Old 03-11-2012, 05:20 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Default Adam Kirsch on William Carlos Williams

Has anyone read the books he's reviewing?

Last edited by Andrew Frisardi; 04-28-2012 at 12:05 AM.
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Old 03-11-2012, 08:31 AM
Maryann Corbett's Avatar
Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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I'm about two chapters into the Leibowitz book, because I'm supposed to be reviewing it for The Arts Fuse. Though Kirsch doesn't actually say much here about the book itself (!), I agree with what he says: the book is a melding of close reading with biography, and it's completely candid about Leibowitz's view of the weaknesses that can appear in Williams's work.

I'm a little disturbed by the sort of psychoanalysis Leibowitz is doing through the poems. I need to get further into it to make a more certain judgment.
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Old 03-11-2012, 12:19 PM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Thanks, Maryann. I was intrigued by Kirsch's references to Paul Mariani's 1981 biography of Williams, which I'd like to read. I also wonder if anyone here knows that one and how it is.
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Old 03-11-2012, 04:29 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I read the Mariani biography of Williams some time back. I remember it as solid, workmanlike and a little dull. In fairness, Williams lived a relatively uneventful life.
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Old 03-28-2012, 05:51 AM
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Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
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I haven't yet read these books, but have 'em on order now! Thanks for the lead.

I did think that Kirsch was right on about most everything he said about WCW, but maybe is slightly unfair in moments. Yes, WCW failed often and regularly, sometimes for years and years at a stretch. But when he hit it, he hit it out of the park, as in the later very personal triadic line poems without which we would never have had the confessional poems of Lowell and Plath and Sexton, not to mention the Beat poetics of Ginsberg and Creeley, and those who followed, from C.K. Williams and Philip Levine to Tony Hoagland and Kim Addonizio.

If WCW seems non-intellectual, it is in part because he composed with a sense of his reader's intelligence, burying his treasures to be unearthed instead of declaring them outright. But, really, this is like the early critics (even Ezra Pound, who should have known better) who thought Robert Frost a crackerjack country bumpkin whose meter was clumsy and off. This late in the game, we should know better about WCW, as we do about Frost.

If we focus on a quick, very early, one-off imagist poem like "The Red Wheelbarrow," instead of about a complex and interesting later poem such as "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" or "The Orchestra," it will certainly make him seem a much less interesting poet than he is. I'm glad Hirsch acknowledges WCW's ongoing attempts to incorporate the wild strains of modernism into his verse. In fact, if WCW fails, he fails because he is relentlessly experimental for much of his life, and the true battle in his work is between his rage for clarity and his rage for a poetry of the avant garde.

Well, okay, I'm ranting.

See ya,

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Old 03-28-2012, 04:07 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Tony, it’s always a pleasure to read your rants!

I’m no expert on WCW, he’s not my favorite poet, but I think he was entirely correct in his distrust of Eliot. IMHO, poetry is at least as much the truth of the heart as the truth of the head; Eliot missed, mistook, the truth of the heart.

I’ve always thought that, for all his celebrated religious conversion, for all his embrace of orthodoxy, Eliot was a heretic -- a Manichee, to be precise. One must also love the world, somebody in it. It seems to me that WCW intuited this deeply, and “Asphodel” is the flower and testament. (So, in a smaller way, is “Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”. They convey to me an enchantment with the world.)

How natural that Auden should so have admired “Asphodel” – I think Auden understood both truths of poetry, and which must be subaltern.
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Old 04-08-2012, 11:35 AM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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For what it's (belatedly) worth, here's what I ended up writing about the Leibowitz book, at The Arts Fuse.
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Old 04-16-2012, 11:37 AM
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Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is offline
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Thanks, Maryann. Your review is a good read. I have the book on order, still waiting, but am looking forward to dipping in. Still, it does not inspire confidence to hear how Leibowitz attacks "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"; it's easy to critique other people's sex lives (in one poem, WCW himself writes about how unbearable it would be to have the critics digging into his personal affairs) but beyond such moral judging is the question of the quality of the poem itself. To my taste, the later WCW of the triadic lines is the best of Williams, and of those poems, "Asphodel" is the very best, so if "Asphodel" is awkward and clumsy then there is not much left of the guy's work to like. I don't buy it. But I will buy the book.
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Old 04-16-2012, 03:08 PM
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Rick Mullin Rick Mullin is offline
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I have an essay on Williams due out this year in the annual journal of the William Carlos Williams Poetry Collective. The group, based in Rutherford, NJ, where Williams lived and delivered, invited me to give the opening presentation at its monthly reading in February and asked me, when I was done, to submit it as an essay.

Basically, I examine WCW's "no ideas but in things" dictum and his contribution to the "American poetry" canard. I'm pretty rough on him, really. I was surprised that the rather idolatrous group let me finish my talk, never mind asking me to submit it for the journal.

Some very good poets there--John J. Trause, Claudia Serea, Don Zirilli, and Jim Kline. I've featured there with poetry as well, and Quincy R. Lehr is due up some time soon. A lot of the group is staunchly anti-formal, clinging to WCW for some sort of justification in this!


Cultural note: You read there before a large cardboard-backed photo of the doctor smiling down on the podium.

Last edited by Rick Mullin; 04-16-2012 at 03:45 PM.
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Old 04-28-2012, 06:45 PM
Williamb Williamb is offline
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Location: Arizona, USA
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I'd give my left nut to have written this poem:


When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.
or this, one of the first poems that got me interested in writing:

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
moving tense
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.

Williams, like his fellow New Jerseyan a generation later, Allen Ginsberg, started out writing mediocre (or worse) traditional poetry. Formal verse didn't suit either one of them, and it was a good thing for all that they broke into something new and exciting. Here's a sample of WCW's early verse:

To the Unknown Lady

So shall thy praise, thou whom I love so well
As praise long spent grow stale and meaningless,
Yielding to Time, who still doth bid men spell
More deep and deep to Wonder's wilderness.

For, not thine arm which wields a huntress' spear,
Nor shall thy lovely parts, nor shall thy grace,
These outworn badges of some vanished peer,
Awake that fire which bids all these give place.

But 'tis thy mind, that realm of sovereignty,
That viewless orb, that world in duplicate,
That more than world, from whose empowered see
Quick doubling fancy holds unrivaled state.

Yet when this praise too, wears, my love shall hold,
In iron crowns rusted as gleams the untouched gold.
See what I mean? Anyway, I'm a huge admirer of WCW. And I really don't get all this about him being unintellectual. He tried to keep Ezra Pound from making an ass of himself, but to no avail.
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