Friday, September 17, 2010


Today is the birthday of William Carlos Williams, the New Jersey doctor and great modernist poet, who wrote in his autobiography: 

I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather that it was my very food and drink, the very thing which made it possible for me to write. Was I not interested in man? There the thing was, right in front of me. I could touch it, smell it. It was myself, naked, just as it was, without a lie telling itself to me in its own terms.

Here is the poem that appeared today on the Writer's Almanac in honor of his birthday,  I had never read it before, and it affected me the way great art across genres usually does, like a punch to the gut.

They call me and I go.
It is a frozen road
past midnight, a dust
of snow caught
in the rigid wheeltracks.
The door opens.
I smile, enter and
shake off the cold.
Here is a great woman
on her side in the bed.
She is sick,
perhaps vomiting,
perhaps laboring
to give birth to
a tenth child. Joy! Joy!
Night is a room
darkened for lovers,
through the jalousies the sun
has sent one gold needle!
I pick the hair from her eyes
and watch her misery
with compassion.


Anonymous said...

A punch in the gut, exquisite punch.

Again, thank you for curating.

Enbrethiliel said...


One of my friends is also a poet (and the editor of a literary magazine) and she can't really stand William Carlos Williams. When I read the poems by him that you share here, Pentimento, I have to wonder at my friend's opinion. He is amazing!

Pentimento said...

Oh, I agree, CC and E. To me that is the best poetry -- unadorned and using simple language. You can see his influence from Whitman, who was influenced by Blake and the Bible -- another fave of mine.

Mac said...

WCW is not a favorite of mine in general, but when he hits the mark, he hits it. I would think, Enberthiliel, that for someone to really detest his work would almost have to be a conscious intellectual decision about the general way he writes, his philosophy of poetry. I might have some sympathy with that in the abstract, but it's hard for me to see how anyone could fail to respond to at least some of his work.