Email this review


William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was a late bloomer, wallflower at the poetry readings who sat on the sidelines while Pound and Eliot acknowledged the applause. He especially hated Eliot for returning poetry to the classroom while he was pulling so hard in the other direction, toward the commonplace--what Whittemore calls ""the aesthetic of the ugly."" Williams would be especially gratified at the reversal of their post-mortem reputations. He has been a primary influence on poets like Ginsberg and Olson since the '50's; he is now being publicized as the central figure of the 20th century American pantheon, the inheritor of Whitman and Dickinson--two equally peculiar and patient prosodists. WCW's legend is of the obstetrician who dashed off poems on the typewriter hidden in his desk in between examining impoverished mothers-to-be whom he didn't necessarily bill for services rendered--the poet who was born, married, and died in Rutherford, New Jersey, while others of his expatriate generation virtually equated exile with art. His ""shitty little verses"" were belittled by family, neighbors and most of the bohemian literary crowd he sought out in his double-life excursions across the river to Manhattan when he could ""steal"" time from his more mundane concerns. It is Whittemore's achievement as a biographer to have captured, as if in a cubist painting, the double exposure where the modest, self-effacing physician merges with a lonely, gifted writer. Williams had many acquaintances among the modernists, but even in Pound--who had patronized him since their collegiate rivalry for H.D.--no real ally until the publication of Paterson in 1945, and he has waited for major recognition until now.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1975
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin