17 September 2005

To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie--
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

~ William Carlos Williams, born on this day in 1883

Listen to him read it and head over to wood s lot for some worthwhile links.

What Robert Pinksy has to say:
William Carlos Williams still sets a standard of art for making poetry in an American way. He brings unsurpassed intensity to free verse, to spoken language, to seemingly dirt-plain words and ideas like "car" or "field" or "crazy".... Yes, he exemplifies the art of the eye, as the stereotype of his work has it, but what makes his poems persist is the art of ear and mind, the extraordinary sentences and rhythms he made. Like music, his poems execute shape in time.
Bud has some marvelous thoughts on a related matter:
True and honest poetry does require knowing how to read poems, if you don't know what a caesura sounds like, you probably aren't going to be able to write one to any affect. But ears become trained through using them and that means reading out loud (if and when, as in my case, your wife puts up with it) and listening. Listening not just to your poems and other poets, but, in my opinion, to music, serious music.

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