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 the younger sister 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.


  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


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

    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

      • noochinator said,

        February 14, 2016 at 5:56 pm

        “Thash roit”

        “Preach it”

        The only way I can get through Plato is to pretend it’s a sermon — which it usually is….

    • Andrew said,

      February 14, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      They circle hors d’oeuvres on opening night
      like moths around white wine in candlelight,
      cerebrating in a modernist void:
      contemporary aesthetes, overjoyed
      to know once more that life has no meaning;
      the planet is doomed; that kings are queening;
      that chic just arrived, escorting philosophy
      (Forgive us, Duchamp, for all this monstrosity).

      I long for Hudson River School sunsets
      Old Dutch Masters, religious art, portraits,
      Red, green, or black propaganda-art? NO !
      The view does not merit the price of the show.
      I’m Dada-ed to death, beyond the surreal.
      Conceptual gimmicks have failed to conceal
      your want of ability, values, and faith
      In the book you despise it is written: “thus saith
      the fool in his heart: that there is no God…”

      You: Postmodern Art – to the firing squad!

  5. Andrew said,

    February 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Now, although it has come to seem in our time that we are deluged by communications, by the sounds—better, the noise—of voices pouring words out over the planet and making one contemplate an imaginary project like building a soundproof Noah’s Ark that could float above the confused, tumultuous waves of babble that are drowning the world, I think it better to recall from time to time that reading poetry, listening to poetry, is something utterly different from attending to the communications of journalism and mass literature and entertainment that permeate our waking and even our sleeping lives. If the tribes that once lived in villages everywhere had their local bards and singers, what will be the situation in the global village? One bard? One singer? We have always lived in the multitude of villages among the ruins of the Tower of Babel, and we have had our complicated tapestry, our interwoven patternings made out of multitudes of poets and poetries. But, in the global village there will be the one faceless, boring bard who speaks in the reduced and infinitely reductive voice of the message of the Media. From one point of view, it might be said that the Fourth Estate will be the only Emperor, ruling over the world village.

    [from Jascha Kessler at Eclectica]

  6. Andrew said,

    February 14, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    More than 70 years ago, at the dawn of Modernism, Ezra Pound was a great force, a proponent of various radical movements and novelties, in poetry and the other arts, and some of his novelties were in fact derived from his studies of Classical and Provencal, as well as ancient Chinese, poetry. His shibboleth was: Poetry is news that stays news! Looking back from the 1980’s, it seems to me that he was already deeply defensive in maintaining that poetry was a sort of superior—because transcendental—journalism. (Of course, an ontological question lies hidden beneath his distinction, principally involving the problems like the dimension of time, and history and language in static Platonic perspectives, as well as poetic making of songs from out of the flux of novelty, songs that seem simultaneously dynamic yet permanent.) Poetry, as Pound declared, may indeed be news; it may be the quintessential expression on how it is with us, a phrase Saul Bellow used in a lecture to describe the job of the novelist. But, in the world where the Fourth Estate rules, the news by its very nature is made into hourly news , and yesterday’s news not only does not stay news, it seems to vanish forever.

  7. Andrew said,

    February 14, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    The tribal village bard and singer, mentioned above, declaims his stirring verse at 2:25 of this clip from Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky 1966).

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