Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Birthday in September ~ William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams was born on 17 September 1883 and was a fore-runner of the Imagist movement of poetry in the early 1900s. He was sometimes referred to as the Physician Poet, as he was a medical doctor by profession, but he is said to have "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a doctor".

The poet and critic Randall Jarrell said of his poetry, "William Carlos Williams is as magically observant and mimetic as a good novelist. He reproduces the details of what he sees with surprising freshness, clarity, and economy; and he sees just as extraordinarily, sometimes, the forms of this earth, the spirit moving behind the letters. His quick transparent lines have the nervous and contracted strength, move as jerkily and intently as a bird."

More William Carlos Williams quotes at

Imagist poets wrote free verse, with a specific focus on diction, "To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." They were also at pains to attain "clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images."

Let us take a few lines from The Widow's Lament in Springtime by way of example:

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.

In the first five words he has set up the extended metaphor of the poem, and asked of his reader an imaginative leap: to take all we know of a yard and apply it to all we know of sorrow. Consider his choice of the words 'my own yard'. The speaker of the poem (the widow) lays claim to this domain of grief. The poem concludes with the lines:

Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Consider his use of the transferred epithet 'heavy', used to describe the woods, but really indicative of her own depression. His choice of verbs in the final two lines is exact: the movement from 'fall' to 'sink'.

Our challenge today is to write in the style of the Imagists. Here are a few guidelines, as defined by Ezra Pound:
I. Direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective.
II. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
III. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.
Above all, bear in mind that an image is "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."

The Sunday Mini-Challenge is posted at noon on Saturday, to allow extra time on the weekend for the creative process. Please link a new poem, or alternately, you may want to take an older poem and rewrite it, with an eye to cutting away excess verbiage, changing words and phrasing in order to produce a poem more in keeping with the Imagist tenets. If you choose this option, please include a link to the original poem, or a copy thereof, so that we may review your process in the interest of learning more about the art of writing. In this regard, I would ask that comments not be made along the lines of "I think this one is better than that" but focused on the piece which is intended for today's challenge.


Susan said...

Imagism seems hard to me. I'm going to try it though, working on specifics rather than vast romantic contrasts. My favorite, if indeed it is imagist (?), is Amy Lowell's "The Taxi":

The Taxi
When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Kerry O'Connor said...

Oh, that is an excellent example, Susan. Many thanks for sharing here today.
I too battle with the tension between literal statements and the images they contain. It is an art.

hedgewitch said...

This is a hard one for me, Kerry. I will give it some thought.

Ella said...

I just got home-I have to say I love his style. I am not sure if I can bring it, but will try~ What a taunt form, so well expressed! I hope the Poet Doctor would approve, but I fear it is going to be quite the challenge!

Susan said...

I don't know -- imagist, impressionist, surreal--is it just what we say it is?

Scarlet said...

I have combined Timo's word list prompt with this Sunday's challenge ~

Wishing you all Happy Weekend ~

Susie Clevenger said...

I am not sure I captured the form, but I love the challenge.

Ella said...

I was so excited about this challenge I forgot to add the poet and the link! YOU will see why ;D

Happy weekend Toads! Have a safe, happy weekend- those of you celebrating Labor Day~

Kay L. Davies said...

Not an easy prompt to follow, but I've given it my best shot, at the same time as discussing the fate of the world with Hedge. Busy afternoon.

Marian said...

now that i think about it, i AM an imagist. i think. thanks for this very lovely, prompt, Kerry.

Anonymous said...

Marian, yes you are.

Mine is not quite to the challenge, being of form rather than free verse, but Maggie Grace's post spoke to me and I know she favors senryu and haiku. So it goes.

Favorable Sunday to all in the garden... ~ M

Debi Swim said...

I am not sure mine is imagist - I have a hard time 'seeing' this concept, so don't hesitate to help me out with advise and correction : )

Peggy said...

This is a hard one for me. I am not totally clear on what defines imagist but will give it some thought.

Debi Swim said...

Runaway sentence, I didn't see where to post a comment. Your poem was so neat(not in the slang way)and told a fun story.