My Writing

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Paterson" by William Carlos Williams

I liked this book. I enjoyed a much greater percentage of it than I did of Volume I of his Collected Poems. It had a lot of interesting ideas about poetry and a lot of memorable lines and sections.

Paterson is a city in New Jersey near where William Carlos Williams lived. He seems to have made an effort in this book to evoke both the history of a place, an American city, and the life of an individual, the poet, himself. This seems effective to me as a framing/guiding device for the book, although I tend to be most interested in the individual, in people.

Paterson is composed of five books, the fifth of which Carlos Williams added late in life, after people assumed the series of Paterson books was over. He apparently also made some effort, despite his failing health, to begin a sixth book, but only fragments from that are included at the end of the book. This extended project, added to until death, reminds me of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which had, finally, a "deathbed edition."

I don't know of a concise way to summarize the techniques and subjects covered in this book, which contains, alongside poems, prose, letters from other poets, and newspaper clippings. So I will include some of my favorite lines from the various volumes and say, in closing, that this book seems like a very impressive achievement, the result of many years of thinking and feeling.

BOOK ONE (1946)
"Say it! No ideas but in things."

"Which is to say, though it be poorly / said, there is a first wife / and a first beauty, complex, ovate--- / the woody sepals standing back under / the stress to hold it there, innate / a flower within a flower whose history / (within the mind) crouching / among the ferny rocks, laughs at the names / by which they think to trap it. Escapes! / Never by running but by lying still---"

BOOK TWO (1948)
"Only my writing (when I write) is myself: only that is the real me in any essential way. Not because I bring to literature and to life two indifferent sets of values, as you do. No, I don't do that; and I feel that when anyone does do it, literature is turned into just so much intellectual excrement fit for the same stinking hole as any other kind."

"The province of the poem is the world / When the sun rises, it rises in the poem / and when it sets darkness comes down / and the poem is dark"

"The place sweats of staleness and of rot / a back-house stench . a / library stench / It is summer! stinking summer / Escape from it---but not by running / away. Not by 'composition.' Embrace the / foulness / ---the being taut, balanced between / eternities"

BOOK FOUR (1951)
"---while he was still in the hotel business, a tall and rather beautiful woman came to his desk one day to ask if there were any interesting books to be had on the premises. He, being interested in literature, as she knew, replied that his own apartment was full of them and that, though he couldn't leave at the moment --- Here's my key, go up and help yourself.

She thanked him and went off. He forgot all about her.

After lunch he too went to his rooms not remembering until he was at the door that he had no key. But the door was unlatched and as he entered, a girl was lying naked on the bed. It startled him a little. So much so that all he could do was to remove his own clothes and lie beside her. Quite comfortable, he soon fell into a heavy sleep. She also must have slept.

They wakened later, simultaneously, much refreshed."

BOOK FIVE (1958)
"It is the imagination
which cannot be fathomed.
It is through this hole
we escape . ."

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