Jacob Falcon on “William Carlos Williams: The Modernist from Jersey”
William Carlos Williams wrote Spring and All in 1923 and is a work that evokes the imagination in a readers mind leading the reader through a remarkable journey into the depths of poetry and what it should consist of, primarily focusing on Imagism, a term coined by Ezra Pound. This manifesto of the imagination focuses on how to create relevant work for the common person, utilizing an imagination like a painter would paint their canvas. Williams has a unique path to becoming a modernist writer and does not entirely fit a description listed by Malcolm Cowley.
In a book titled Exiles Return: a Literary Odyssey of the 1920s, author Malcolm Cowley provides a guide on what one must do to become an exile modernist writer in the era of The Lost Generation. Malcolm Cowley states that one must be an exile in order to be a modernist writer. William Carlos Williams’ was not an exile but he did go to France for an internship during his college years. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos served as ambulance drivers in France during World War I which gave them a different perspective on America once they returned. Willliam Carlos Williams always wrote for the everyday people in America and never once thought about be an exile.
William Carlos Williams starts of Spring and All by including himself with the modernist writers, stating that people criticize modernist writers by saying, “You moderns! It is the death of poetry that you are accomplishing” (177). He is formally telling the reader that he is, in fact, a modernist poet. Malcolm Cowley also states that the exiles “sense of being different” is a trait that one would have to become an expatriate exile writer. (7) William Carlos Williams based his whole structure of his poetry at making it new, writing in free verse and prose. At a lecture to a college class in 1955, William Carlos Williams stated that, “credibility of a modern writer depends on structure”. In an interview by Stanley Koehler William Carlos Williams stated, “Reality. Reality. My vocabulary was chosen out of the intensity of my concern. When I was talking in front of a group, I wasn’t interested in impressing them with my power of speech, but only with the seriousness of my intentions toward them. I had to make them come alive.” Imagism is what they called this new writing style. Williams’ fresh approach to writing provided him with a new lane in modernism.
In addition, William Carlos Williams was writing for the common man, just like Ernest Hemingway was in A Moveable Feast. In this autobiography, Hemingway depicts himself as being a common, poor man, while writing in clear, concise language. However, unlike Hemingway who is writing from Paris, Williams remains writing in the United States while at the same time being a medical doctor interacting with common people on a daily bases. Bram Dijkstra wrote, “It was indeed precisely that the very literal attitude of Williams which enabled him to create a new kind of poetry, to become one of the most original poets of this century. He proved once more that the great innovators of the arts are those who can adapt the suggestions presented by the world” (5). In other words, Williams took his occupation and incorporated it into his poetry, for example, in a poem titled “Spring and All” Williams writes, “By the road to the contagious hospital” reflecting on his daily commute this his occupation and also presented in clear, everyday speech just like Hemingway does in A Moveable Feast.
Although William Carlos Williams remains in the United States, he still becomes a significant role in modernism creating magnificent works like Spring and All. Even though these writers were writing from different parts of the globe, it is essential to link them all together because they were all creating a new—modernism. Even though Malcolm Cowley provides this exact list, we should include William Carlos Williams because at the very core of his work he is creating an immortalizing image which is the center for modernism.
Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. New York: Penguin, 1994 .
Dijkstra, Bram, and Bram Dijkstra. Cubism, Stieglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams: The Hieroglyphics of a New Speech. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1978. Print.
Koehler, Stanley. William Carlos Williams, The Art of Poetry No. 6 (1962). The Paris Review, 2. Web 31 Oct. 2014
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. New York: Scribner, 2010. Print
Williams, William Carlos. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Vol. 1. New York: New Directions Book. Print.
William, William Carlos. “The Modern Poet” YouTube 30 October 31, 2014.
Back to Expatriate Texts
More about William Carlos Williams