Pedro Serrano points me towards an article in the current New York Review of Books, about William Carlos Williams. In it, Adam Kirsch mentions Williams’ sense – whether it was true or not – of having been scorned by Pound, and other acquaintances, writing: “I ground my teeth out of resentment, though I acknowledge their privilege to step on my face if they could.” T.S. Eliot comes in for some particularly harsh judgement: “Maybe I’m wrong”, he wrote to Pound, “but I distrust that bastard more than any writer I know in the world today.”
And yet, Kirsch, reminds us, “If you look at the lingua franca of American poetry today – a colloquial free verse focused on visual description and meaningful anecdote – it seems clear that Williams is the twentieth-century poet who has done most to influence our very conception of what poetry should do, and how much it does not need to do.” It might be added that D.H. Lawrence carried out a very similar seminal role in British poetics.
There is much else that is good to think with in this article, some of it coming from Randall Jarrell, an acute reader of Williams, whom he considered “an intellectual in neither the good nor the bad sense of the word.” I think I know what that means, but maybe not . . .
In his autobiography Williams claims that what drove him to write was anger – somewhat like Cervantes – and his anger was clearly kept warm by his self-doubt and insecurity, his dislike or loathing of certain contemporaries (especially Eliot, of whom he claimed, late in life, to be “insanely jealous”) and his fear that he was not considered an ‘important’ poet.
How terrible the tribulations – real or imagined – of the poet, how fragile the music.
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