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Modern Poetry: Lecture 16 TranscriptMarch 28, 2007<< backProfessor Langdon Hammer: I'm going to talk about William Carlos Williams today. It may be that I end up carrying a little bit of Williams over to next time--to Marianne Moore, his friend, contemporary, and really close collaborator, in a sense, in the New York scene of modernism in the teens, twenties, thirties, forties, and on into the fifties.This is the man, as a young man, William Carlos Williams. If you open your anthologies to page 284, in the long and useful head-note that Jahan Ramazani provides you, there's this quotation from a letter in themiddle of page 284 that Williams wrote to Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetrywhom thirteen years later Hart Crane would write to in defense of his poem, "At Melville's Tomb." And Williams says in this letter to Monroe:Most current verse is dead from the point of view of art… [It's dead, it's lifeless; and what Williams cares about is something he calls "life."] Now life is above all things else at any moment subversive of life as it was the moment before [and I think that's how we know it in Williams's life: whatever is subverting whatever was a moment before. And subversive is probably an important and suggestive word there]--always new, irregular. [He wants what is new, and what is new is going to be what is irregular, and what is irregular has in some sense subverted what was in place before. He continues.] Verse to be alive [to have what Pound, I think, would have called "the impulse"] must have infused into it something of the same order[it has to have life in it, or what he calls] some tincture of disestablishment, something in the nature of an impalpable revolution, an ethereal reversal, let me say. I am speaking of modern verse.Like certain of our other poets, Williams is self-consciously modern. He's defining what "modern" means,and he's defining it as a quality of experience that he calls "life," that has the quality of disrupting whatever was in existence before. And this is a quality and energy that he wants to have in his poetry itself. This is Williams a little bit older, Williams in 1924, when he has established himself through the poems in a volume called Spring and All, as one of the major modern poets in America.He is the author of a poem – have you ever seen it? – called "The Red Wheelbarrow." And that might be agood place to begin. That's on pages 294 to 295. Of course, I'm joking. Probably that's the one poem everybody in this class has read before they came to this class. It is better known than "The Negro Speaksof Rivers" or "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," even. It is also distinguished, I think, as being the second shortest modern poem after "In a Station of the Metro," a poem that it's related to in certain ways.

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