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Friday, May 6, 2011

Another Startling View of WCW

from The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford
Wendell Berry

But after thinking of both of them for many years, I believe that the person to whom Williams can be most suggestively compared is his younger contemporary, William Faulkner. They are nothing alike in their ways of writing or in their subjects. They dealt with two distinct varieties of American disorder: Williams with the accumulating mass of detail in the rapidly industrializing New Jersey suburbs of New York City, Faulkner with (among other things) racial division both within individuals and among people who lived more or less together and sometimes were kin to one another.  Both dealt, in different ways, with the reduction of the country's original abundance to a sum of exploitable and deteriorating "resources" for industry. They seem to have been, if not similarly, then equally burdened by their subjects--not, as with many writers, subjects sought out or acquired, but subjects that they inherited by being born int he places where they also lived their lives, and for which they were required, as a personal emergency, to find a language and an imaginative order, at the cost of a life's unremitting work and always at the risk of failure.

First, who would have thought to compare Williams and Faulkner.  To say that they are nothing alike in style or subject is an understatement that beggars the imagination.  And what it says most of all to me is that Berry evidently reads them out of his own heart of concerns.  The themes he recognizes (rightly, I think) are the themes that are part and parcel of Berry himself.  There is a concern with knowledge of place with both the natural elements of it AND the cultural elements as an additional layer.  I am not well enough acquainted with the vast amount of poetry from Williams--and some of it is daunting in its paucity of potential interest.  Really, Patterson, NJ?  And some of the earlier work just thuds on the ear.  So I must trust one better acquainted with the subject.  Again, the power and value of an interested critic.

As a side note--it is interesting that while I was typing the above excerpt, I typed, "They are nothing alike in their ways of knowing. . ." instead of "They are nothing alike in their ways of writing. . . "  And I realized for me that writing is the fundamental way of knowing.  In a very real sense, if it is not written, then it isn't really understood.  It has always been so for me.  I don't think that it is for everyone--but for me, knowledge or understanding gels better when it is written out.  I can read and read and read and read, but true insight occurs when I pause in my reading and take time to say to someone else--even if that someone is only myself--what it is that I am learning or hearing in what I am reading.  Do others have a similar experience?  Or perhaps a very different experience?  I'd love to hear it.

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