MODERNISM BEGAN ON AUGUST 15, 1911 AT 3:42 IN THE AFTERNOON…

They don’t know no William Carlos Williams

At 3:41 in the afternoon of August 15, 2011, T.S. Eliot, 23, is falling asleep over his Sanskrit lesson at Harvard. “Prufrock” won’t be published for another 4 years, and will be panned by the London Times.  The Waste Land is over 10 years and a nervous breakdown away.  He sighs.  Some day he will meet a girl who will realize “like a patient etherized upon a table” is genius… He lays his glasses on the desk and rubs his eyes…

At the same moment, Ezra Pound, 26, unknown, but getting to know the famous, in London, is writing a letter to his dad, telling him he won’t need to send any money right now; an American, Margaret Lanier Cravens, has promised him an income, but please don’t tell mother about this. Pound is thankful Hilda—a  prof’s daughter who he met in school, and who refused his marriage proposal a few years ago—and her new English boyfriend Dick, soon to be his roommates, are buying into his Imagism scheme, in which Japanese haiku is the basis for a “new” Western approach to poetry—brilliant!  He rises from his desk and shadow boxes for a moment…

William Carlos Williams, 28, is checking his inventory of tongue depressors in his new home doctor’s office in Rutherford, New Jersey.  He’s thinking seriously of courting the younger sister of the woman who refuses to marry him.  He will marry her next year. His first book of poems is 10 years away.  He looks at the clock on the wall…

Modern life was stirring. 

Poems on electricity were being written. 

“Ode To A  Light Bulb” was circulating among friends, brightening their lives.

William Carlos Williams walked into a jazz club and pointed to his poems: “Look, fellas!  Jazz!”  They threw him out.

William Carlos Williams ran into the street, stopped the first person he met, and pointed to his poems: “Hey, pal, look at my poems! Aint this just the way people talk?” The guy looked at the scribblings on the page, with lots of white spaces.  Then he looked at Williams.  Then back at the page.  Then he looked at Williams, again.  Then he said in his best American idiom: “You is crazy.”

Despondent, Williams phoned up his friend, Ezra Pound. “Don’t worry, Bill,” Pound said.  “We are going to make enough noise and eventually we’ll be taught in college.  I know people. Lewis, Yeats, Ford will help. I’m meeting people every day. Great poetry is  hard to write.  Mad poetry will be fashionable, soon.  Don’t you worry.”

And the clocks began to chime and it was the modern time and all the rain in the street began to rain.

And the women came and went.

5 Comments

  1. Nooch said,

    October 18, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Modernism personified: Reddy Kilowatt.
    Postmodernism personified: Pol Pot.

  2. Aaron Asphar said,

    October 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII am an egoist – i.e. a theist who beleives in themselves.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    October 18, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Remove Mona Lisa’s facial hair
    And Modern Art’s no longer there,
    Poetry that’s merely prose
    Is here—no, look! There it goes.
    What is modern? Then? Where?
    Reputation neither beautiful nor fair.
    Payment hidden in a moocher’s clothes.

  4. Rembrant Rewankered said,

    October 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    MODERNISM GRASPED

    Blue – blue – blue – blue – blue
    Blue – blue – yellow – green – red
    Blue – black – blue – blue – blue

    You
    You’re nothing
    You are
    Him over there
    Standing by the fire
    Looking at his red face
    Looking at me
    Looking at you.

    It’s OK
    I’m not here
    You are
    With him over there
    And me not here
    Looking at you
    Looking at him
    Whose looking away.

    Dap doo – doh dap doo – doh da da duurrggh

    I was there at the birth of Modernism
    in Zurich with Hennings & Huelsenbeck
    Janco, Tzara, Arp and Ball – Emmy
    Richard, Marcel, Tristan and Hugo
    Life and language, the chosen art
    took control of the technical apparatus
    for the greatest three act hoax that century
    Gas Heart, Sphinx und Strohmann
    Cabaret Voltaire. March thirtieth 1916
    Richard, Marcel and Tristan reading
    simultaneously – verses of Divoire & Barzes.
    Max Jacob’s and Jules Laforgue
    Oskar Kokoschka, where do you begin
    deserters, objectors, lovers of peace
    intelligent art, the reason in Dada
    spoke through Janco

    We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa. At the Cabaret Voltaire we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste, in short, the whole prevailing order.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Let us begin by considering the whole nature of excess and defect…Length and shortness, excess and defect, with all these the art of measurement is conversant…but if we assume the greater to exist only in relation to the less, there will never be any comparison of either with the mean, and would not this be the ruin of all the arts and their creations, for all these arts are on the watch against excess and defect, not as unrealities, but as real evils, which occasion a difficulty in action; and the excellence of beauty of every work of art is due to this observance of measure.

      —Plato, Statesman


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