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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 5 Number 5, 1975.

Drama That Stays Indoors - A Note on Carlos Williams Ronald Hayman



IN 'EXCERPTS from a Critical Sketch', his 1931 essay on Pound's Cantos, William Carlos Williams said 'the principal movement in imaginative writing today' was that away from the word as a symbol towards the word as reality'. In itself the idea was not new: 'The ridiculous and amazing mistake people make', wrote Novalis in 1799, is to believe they use words in relation to things. They are unaware of the nature of language - which is to be its own and only concern.' It took over a hundred years for literature to catch on. Looking back on that period of 'transition' in the Autobiography Williams began in 1948 at the age of 64, he emphasised how much the writers had owed to the painters who thought of a picture less as an imitation of 'nature' than as 'a matter of pigments on a piece of cloth . . . It was the work of the painters following Cézanne and the Impressionists that, critically, opened up the age of Stein, Joyce and a good many others.'

It's harder for words than for pigments to refer only to themselves, but describing Gertrude Stein in another 1931 essay he said 'The feeling is of words themselves, a curious immediate quality quite apart from their meaning, much as in music different notes are dropped, so to speak, into repeated chords one at a time, one after another - for themselves alone. In 'The Influence of Painting on William Carlos ...


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