Saturday, March 08, 2008

-- being actual
having the form
of motion

William Carlos Williams: The Wind Increases

or Why try to write like Hemingway? By Anthony McCarthy

Someday I might tell you how the story told to me by a carpenter about three porcine brothers, all working as carpenters on his current job, and their all going on the ExtenZe Program at the same time leads to re-reading William Carlos Williams’ poetry. For now, let’s just say that what it reveals about the relative intelligence of human males, taken in aggregate, could single handedly, literally, counteract the entire backlash against feminism or at least that part of it.

During the search for the few net-based texts available I found something much better, these extensive sound files of Williams reading his work, being interviewed and reading papers. You can listen and see for yourself what hearing him read some of his more well known, and some more obscure, of his poems can reveal about the way he put them on paper, how he conceived them as sounding in time and meaning. It was a lot different from how I would have imagined, it is useful to hear. He must have gotten tired of reading that poem, on which depends so much of the non-reading of his other work.

This interview with W. C. Williams and Flossie, his wife very shortly before his death is a revelation of both of them. There are a lot of things about his work that become clearer when you read her words. White Mule takes on a whole new dimension when you know that her name is the same as the little girl, the ‘white mule’ of that story. The discussion of his medical practice and Mrs. Williams’ observation about babies being her husband’s favorite topic in his work is worth scores of pages of most other commentary. The source is unimpeachable in her authoritative knowledge.

Williams is less well served by reading scholarly commentary about his work than just about any other writer. His art is dependent on unfiltered life or, as is the case in the experience of any art, on the direct response of the reader to what he produced. Forget those picking over his corpus, go right to the living source.

This paper about the survival of the arts in what we can see in retrospect as the past fifty years is fascinating both for its identification of some of the dangers, the innocence of others and the mixed results from the fact that the most brilliant and clear-eyed among us can not know the future.