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The Release

The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams . New York: Random House, 1951.

Dr. Williams is 'unique' in no sense unfamiliar. There have been other men likewise of this intent: to hit ground somewhere, to anchor somehow to present. An autobiography can effect the impact of a recognition perhaps beyond the art —though I should look to nothing else but such art for major effect, or what can now be of essential use.

The present book is one of many by Dr. Williams, no reader can forget that. The material is, to some extent it must be, of lower intensity than that which we have witnessed before—he can not do it all over again, in any form, and the years here dealt with are those in which his other work first appeared. In 1925 In the American Grain recorded a like purpose, of "autobiography," and continues as informant:

The strong sense of a beginning in Poe is in no one else before him. What he says, being thoroughly local in origin, has some chance of being universal in application, a thing they never dared conceive. Made to fit a place it will have that actual quality of things anti-metaphysical—

The prose of that earlier book has, of course, been noted but not in its particulars, i.e., the first evidence of a prose method we have yet to acknowledge by use. "No ideas but in things."



A time denies itself in thinking of time —the place is a similar escape if it be left there, and not used. It is a theme of use , and how one can come to fix on any thing some signal of his own existence. Clearly, it is not in any usual sense: "What becomes of me has never seemed important, but the fates of ideas living against the grain in a nondescript world has always held me breathless." The "world" is nondescriptive, either in our hands—to speak of it so—or in its own character. A use is a relation , and these determine no adequate symbol or metaphor beyond their very presence —that they exist in such permanent character.

On this the poem rests, on this presence. "The poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity." Against the half-conceived, or the recoil—the poem also a thing—equal, if you will, to Nature or to any mass conception. In this poetry has dominance, and a form . It is neither explanation nor description, but actual in such form.

These were the years just before the great catastrophe to our letters—the appearance of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land . There was heat in us, a core and a drive that was gathering headway upon the theme of a rediscovery of a primary impetus, the elementary principle of all art, in the local conditions. Our work staggered to a halt for a moment under the blast of Eliot's genius which gave the poem back to the academics. We did not know how to answer him.

A form "in the local conditions" depends on what relation is possible, and, to that end, one attacks. Particulars are relevant in their own attack on the man who wants to confront them. Released, they find form in themselves, and use any man as their declaration. It is, perhaps, that struggle is impossible against them—in this alien way. "When she died there was nothing left. In his despair he had nowhere to turn. It is the very apotheosis of the place and time."

But from that "place" or "time" there is nowhere else—either then, for Poe, or for us now. At this point we fight lacking all we might wish, or want, otherwise. In release from despair. The poem begins here. In time, if you want, and also in place. Its locus is that effect, of itself, on that corpus of the particular, the world in detail. What effect can be made is in the poem—not then alien, or strange to its locality. Our language is more uniquely ourselves than any other act, it is our marriage.

"Nothing can grow unless it taps into the soil."



Within my own experience I have heard Williams called "anti-poetic." This is a testament, of my own—that I oppose it. "When a man makes a poem, makes it, mind you, he takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them—without distortion which would mar their exact significances—into an intense expression of his own perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses." All use is a personal act, and I have used this sense , of poetry, insofar as I have been capable.

Some definitions are without meaning, lacking, as they do, a ground on which to bear. Any discussion of poetry must come to the poem itself, and take there, if anywhere, its own assumption of meaning. A theory of poetry is relevant only in what it can produce, in quite literal poems. Pound notes, "I think it will be usually found that the work outruns the formulated or at any rate the published equation, or at most they proceed as two feet of one biped."

                                outside myself
                                                                      there is a world,
he rumbled, subject to my incursions
—a world
                                 (to me) at rest
                                                which I approach

("Eliot had turned his back on the possibility of reviving my world. . . . Only now, as I predicted, have we begun to catch hold again and restarted to make the line over. This is not to say that Eliot has not, indirectly, contributed much to the emergence of the next step in metrical construction, but if he had not turned away from the direct attack here, in the Western dialect, we might have gone ahead much faster.")

No man can make poetry without the ground of himself—in whatever character that should be open to him. "After it was over we rushed up—already there was a young man telling him he was more poet than doctor (shyly) and Williams saying he was simply both & the manner of his life affected his poetry very much he thought." Definition would be a man's act, and so his poetry, not so much in the character of things beyond reach, call it—but in those


things immensely to hand, in that shape they make a "world" no matter. It is from this world a man must care not to escape, having no other of such kind.

"He sat to read, just turning the pages & looking at the people. Everybody I could hear near me responded in a way that staggered me.—Dead silence, tremendous applause—and the people who have money to go to these things don't read poetry. Common speech, and he really got to everyone. I was maudlin, with tears in my eyes—at the whole idea."


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