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“I myself invite you to read and see.” (Spring and All, William Carlos Williams)

Tonight was the second live session of the ModPo Coursera class. It was shot live from Kelly Writers House, which is situated on UPenn’s campus. William Carlos Williams was the man of the hour during tonight’s live session.

Having just crammed two hours of quick reading and video discussions before the site went live, I found myself questioning several things about Williams poetry. Hitting the discussion board, I hoped to find others who were grappling with similar thoughts.

One thread regarding the poem “Lines”, questioned if the poem was a rebuttal to the Imagist Manifesto. I found the idea fascinating since I’d already drawn my conclusion that it was indeed, meta-poetic. I don’t think I should post the students thoughts here without her permission, but I will post my comment, and a link to the thread (for students with access).


Very much enjoyed your close read, Jane. It made me go back to something I had read recently regarding WCW’s feeling of isolation from many of his peers in poetry. It suggested (based on his autobiography) that WCW formed his own form of modernism to incorporate the two lives he felt he lived – as poet and doctor. When I read this poem, lines suggest the actual poem which was juxtaposing the traditional, mundane organic pages with the inorganic, the broken, yet alive. It is interesting, for I never recognized the rhyme — I looked over it because of it was green to green, perhaps showing how the two fuse, then split. Thank you, your post allowed me to do another close read.

Hitting the enter key two minutes after the live forum started, the mind was full of ‘what about…’

One thing I couldn’t shake while listening to the live forum was the idea of repetition (not “Tender Buttons” style, thou I dig that, too) but how some poets will repeat images, colors, and/or phrasing within their poetry collection. As one who just bought Volume 1 of WCW complete poems, I’ve yet to know much regarding this nuance in his work. Insight from the well-read was desired, so, I thought, meh, open thread, ask away…and, I did…

It is interesting that “Lines” links the color green, broken, and glass, as does “Between Walls” with broken, green, and bottle (inferring it is made of glass). The former written in 1921, the latter 1938. As one who just purchased (not read) Vol 1 of WCW collection, I’ve not time to see patterns in his poetry. Did WCW use key images throughout his writing career? If yes, are there any suggestions as to why these particular images?

I was most grateful to suddenly hear my question being read on-air! I shall post the reply from the video below.

This post is getting rather lengthy, and it is after the witching hour, so I shall hold off with anymore thoughts on this inquiry. A take-away, however, from Modernism, Medicine, & Williams, posits that the poem’s images were to help solidify Williams objective for his readers: to see, rather a poetic “Theatre of Proof”. Sounds a bit medieval, no? In a way, it was, for inspiration derived from the observation theatre where the body was object. Williams understood the importance of transparency in language, the need for truth.

(Side-bar: the class ended with a story regarding a 81 year-old student from Greece who had contacted Al after he couldn’t get his Emily Dickinson paper to load. Al, in turn, made certain that we students would give an assessment. by posting it on the forum. What happened? Poets United – over 40 responses. Should we be surprised…

Poetry opens up the house in which we reside; there we shall toast each other with a liquor more potent than any proof ever brewed. Cheers! ~

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2 thoughts on “Theatre of Proof

  1. “Poetry opens up the house in which we reside; there we shall toast each other with a liquor more potent than any proof ever brewed.” And I hereby toast you. I’d never have imagined a single course could change so much how I read poetry, and actually much more than that. A cause for celebration, and certainly for a Dickinsonian (and Whitmanian) toast!

    • Cheers to you, Susan. It has been just a wild ride thus far, no? Many thanks for stopping, I’ve always enjoyed reading your comments over on Mark’s blog. ~ a

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