Poet of the Month
William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was born on September 7, 1883, and grew up in Rutherford, New Jersey. With his mother a lover of theatre and art, and father an avid reader, he was provided with a fertile background in art and literature. However, his enthusiastic pursuit of math and science at New York City's Horace Mann High School showed his strong love for the sciences. Later in high school, though, Williams took an interest in languages and felt for the first time the excitement of great books. He recalled his first poem, also written during that time, giving him a feeling of joy. He attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied medicine, and eventually befriended poets Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle. Later, the trio would be known as the founders of the Imagist movement. The Imagists broke from traditional poetry by stressing a verse of swift, uncluttered, functional phrasing. Williams's first book, Poems (1909), a "conventional" work, correct in sentiment and diction, preceded the Imagist influence. But in his second book, The Tempers (1913), Williams's style was directed by an Imagist feeling, though it still depended on romantic and poeticized allusiveness. By 1917 and the publication of his third book, Al Que Quiere!, he began to use the Imagist techniques fairly rigorously. When Williams was granted an internship at a hospital in New York City, he began to hear the "inarticulate poems" of his patients. As a doctor, he saw sickly, deranged beings, and was present for many births and deaths. From these moments, poetry developed: "it has fluttered before me for a moment, a phrase which I quickly write down on anything at hand, any piece of paper I can grab." Some of his poems were born on prescription blanks, others typed in a few spare minutes between patient visits. Continuing to experiment with new techniques of meter and lineation, Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh—and singularly American—poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. His influence as a poet spread slowly during the 1920s and 1930s, and his work received increasing attention in the 1950s and 1960s as younger poets, including Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, were impressed by the accessibility of his language and his openness as a mentor. His major works include Kora in Hell (1920); Spring and All (1923); Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the five-volume epic Paterson (1963, 1992); and Imaginations (1970). Williams's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1948 and a series of strokes, but he continued writing up until his death in New Jersey on March 4, 1963. Below is one of his poems.
Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.
- William Carlos Williams
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I smell fresh scones resting themselves on fine china plates,
while scorching green tea
overwhelmed with lemon, honey, and ginger
absorbs into the roots of my sore throat.
Kings Park seeps
into my porcelain skin.
As if the bread is now my body,
and the town’s bakery has become my new home.
Where the bees make love to rosemaries and mint leaves
as they dance to the sound of their own songs.
Where in her apartment Marlboros occupy the room as incense,
and Budlight is equivalent to water.
My Grandmother takes a drag of her cigarette,
while gazing out her window
to find two redheaded children
singing to the sun as it sets.
Until their youthful eyes are laid to rest,
kissed by her heavy heart
And her most peaceful breath—
Goodnight & God Bless.