Most famous for his comments on chilly fruit, William Carlos Williams is one of those poets teachers love to poke at their students when they're in the mood to annoy them for an afternoon because none of it rhymes and any "interpretation" ends up talking more about itself than the poem in hand. But Williams is a fine poet, and his pithy style can be very moving indeed. This volume stops just before "Patterson", and contains mostly shorter verse, which lay readers will find more accessible. That said, it's still pretty hefty, so if you're after something to read for pleasure, you'd probably be better served by a selected edition of his verse. For academic readers, though, this really is excellent, and the edition will serve you well.
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Wow, this is a pretty gargantuan task for me. Not only do I have to write a 580 word review of a collection of William Carlos Williams poems, but also, I have to do the exact same thing with the second part of the collection. Oh, and these are the last two books that I have left to review for SocialBookshelves.com, so no pressure – once these are reviewed, I’ve reviewed every book that I’ve ever read, or at least that I ever remember reading.
I suppose that the best place to start is with what was happening in Williams’ life at the time. He’s an interesting character, because he practised as a doctor, as well as writing prolific amounts of poetry. He graduated from medical school in 1906, and his first book of poetry came out in 1909, where this collection begins. In the following years, he had a son and became friends with Ezra Pound, another celebrated poet with an impressive reputation.
Williams’ work is associated with modernism and realism, according to Wikipedia, but I’m not a fan of labels. For me, I just found it to be easy to read and entertaining, two key qualities that I look for. Look, let me flip to a random page and find something awesome: “January! The beginning of all things! Sprung from the old burning nest upward in the flame! I was married at thirteen, my parents had nine kids and we were on the street, that’s why that old bugger – he was twenty-six and I hadn’t even had my changes yet. Now look at me!”
This particular collection spans the early part of his life, up to the outbreak of the Second World War. In this period, the author released eleven collections of poetry, and his style evolved over time – it’s interesting to watch it develop through the pages of the book, and there’s always his second book of collected poems to look forward to reading afterwards.
Really, one of the only problems for me is that there are often longer passages of prose that separate the poems, and I’m a big fan of simplicity – Williams was great at describing simple ideas and creating strong mental imagery in a small number of words, and so it feels like a shame to see him expand upon this. That said, it’s still worth reading, and I wouldn’t recommend skipping over it – it’s just that it’ll slow your progress, and in a book as long as this, you need all of the help that you can get to make sure that you keep on going until the end.
One final thing to note here is that you get your money’s worth – this book could keep you going for months, especially if you ration it or read it over time. My copy cost £12.95, which is just under $20. Easily worth it, when you consider how many poems are included in the collection. It also serves as an essential reference if you’re a student who needs to know more about the great poet, in his early years.
There’s not much more for me to say, so all I can think of is to quote another poem from 1938, called ‘At the Bar‘: “Hi, open up a dozen. Wha’cha tryin’ ta do – charge ya batteries? Make it two. Easy girl! You’ll blow a fuse if ya keep that up.”