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A personal and critical homage to a giant of American poetry.
William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), one of America's most respected 20th-century writers, is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, essay, drama and autobiography, including Spring and All (1923),Life Along the Passaic River(1938), andThe Farmers' Daughters (1961). He is recognized as one of the central figures in postwar American poetry and is often associated with Modernism and, somewhat erroneously, Imagism. The prolific Berry (Imagination in Place, 2010, etc.) also works in multiple genres, and he is perhaps as well-known for poetry and fiction as for essays on a wide range of topics, including farming and agriculture, ecological awareness, rural American culture, poetics and imagination and politics. With a sensibility that is decidedly pastoral, agrarian, even populist, it is not surprising that Berry reads Williams via a poetics of place, or what he calls "local adaptation." This is a fairly conventional reading that contrasts Williams—the "true" regional poet of rural America—with the supposedly more urban, cosmopolitan and international avant-garde writers like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Although Berry acknowledges Williams' complexity and antipoetic tendencies, as well as his similarities to Eliot, he always returns him to a fundamentally lyrical poetics interested in the "mass of detail" and an attempt to find beauty and order in nature via poetry. This interpretation is somewhat pedestrian and situates Williams as a poet on a romantic quest for some kind of unmediated contact with nature and the objects of reality. The importance of Williams's phrase "no ideas but in things" has been persistently exaggerated by critics, and Berry uses it as a kind of springboard to argue that Williams' poetry is "culturally useful." Finally, the author's attacks on writers and critics teaching in universities—"literary industrialists"—seem misplaced.
Of interest to poetry neophytes and newcomers to Williams' work, less so to seasoned readers.
Posted January 17, 2012
Posted December 18, 2011
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