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Selected Poems (William Carlos Williams) Paperback – September 17, 1985
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With the publication of this book, Charles Tomlinson's edition of Williams's Selected Poems, New Directions has introduced a gathering larger and more comprehensive than the original 1963 edition.Opening with Professor Tomlinson's superbly clear and helpful introduction this selection reflects the most up-to-date Williams scholarship. In addition to including many more pieces, Tomlinson has organized the whole in chronological order.
"It isn't what he [the poet] says that counts as a work of art," Williams maintained, "it's what he makes, with such intensity of purpose that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity."
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Fifteen years and many humbling events later, I can honestly say I've come around. Mr. Williams is an amazing and brilliant poet. I've even grown fond of The Red Wheelbarrow, mostly because it has remained a point of irritation and amusement. I guess it's like a little jazz riff of a poem. Williams' voice is said to be almost Cubist in language. Fractured. Yet the words recall simple things from rural life. Despite my initial dislike, The Red Wheelbarrow's a pretty good example of this. But it's his other poetry that I find really moving. I am reminded a bit of Steinbeck in his choice of images that are at times harsh and other times comforting. Just as Steinbeck was a very American author, Williams Carlos Williams is a very American poet.
Politically liberal and Unitarian, Williams practiced medicine as a pediatrician and delivered over 2,000 babies in his lifetime. It seems bizarre to think that this very busy doctor, who actually visited his patients in home (complete with leather bag), had a succesful literary career and keen and discerning interest in poetry of a modern bent. Williams wrote in the evenings after work and on the weekends. The image of the in-call doctor is so old-fashioned. A good juxtaposition with his writing style.
The title of this edition is "Selected Poems." I don't know exactly what process of "selection" Tomlinson used in choosing the poems to include in this collection, but I imagine it involved something in the way of either dice or some variation of dart throwing or the close-your-eyes-and-see-where-your-finger-lands method.
Let me now say that I truly love the poetry of William Carlos Williams. While his work did not really become popular until the post-modern era, Williams is a strictly imagistic modernist, and in my eyes he is the epitome of modernist poetry. Like I said, his strict adherence to literal _things_ and images, combined with his genius use of the line (unmatched to this day), and a beauty that resonates far beyond the page makes for one of the greatest poetry collections of the twentieth century.
My problem, as I said, is not with Williams (far from it), but with this collection (I can no longer bring myself to call it a selection). This collection, while obviously containing "The Red Wheelbarrow," has excluded some of Williams's crucial poems. The following poems have been ommitted from this collection: "The Young Housewife," "Queen-Anne's-Lace," "Portrait of a Lady, "Willow Poem," "The Dead Baby," and "Lear." While the poetry in this edition is certainly great, simply because it is taken from the portfolio of William Carlos Williams, these poems are critical to any reader of Williams's poetry, and, for some reason, have been left out, overlooked, or forgotten, I am not sure. I would suggest that anyone who is intereste in Williams's poetry just spend the extra money and purchase the complete works (whose publisher eludes me at this time, and which I think is in two volumes).
While I have bashed Tomlinson for his choice of works to include in this collection, I will say that one good part about this book is his introduction. I provides a helpful analysis to understanding Williams if you need help with that.
If you enjoy only lofty diction and language such as that used by T.S. Eliot (whose work _The Waste Land_ Williams actually called a "catastrophe"), you may want to look into some of Williams's poetry before purchasing a collection. Williams uses direct, literal, and simple (though absolutely not simplistic) language. The beauty of it lies in the actual view of the images his poetry presents.
Do not buy THIS collection, because it is vastly incomplete. William Carlos Williams is a great poet, and crucial works have been omitted. Purchase at least one of the volumes of his complete works instead.
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