Results tagged “William Carlos Williams” from this Public Address 2.0

Little Triggers

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Little Triggers

When Loren gestured at William Carlos Williams’ famous line from Paterson “No ideas but in things” I tore up my apartment looking for my copy. I never finished it. I prefer long poems to short ones, and narrative poems to abstract ones. But I easily get lost in passages, projecting them onto myself. Like trying on clothes, often one aspect will fit nicely and other’s don’t. But I couldn’t find it— I had to order another copy. I think I walked off and left it somewhere, stunned encountering lines like this:

                        We sit and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
which has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
your eyes

That’s one of the passages I blogged from my encounter with it. I remember talking to the poet Ralph Burns about Paterson. Ralph said: “Williams takes it back later in the poem you know— the bit about ‘no ideas but in things.’” I didn’t get far enough into the book to find out. I keep thinking that there are no ideas, except in people.

It is both disorienting and invigorating to see others expand bits of my reflections. and turn them into more fully developed ideas. Scott’s thoughts on studying for comprehensive exams reminded me of a comment a professor made to me near the end of my first year in the MA program: “You sound like you’re studying for comps!” I suppose I’ve been like that for a long time. I’m rather intense. Dorothea’s reflections on intense people and graduate school hit close. So did Jonathon’s admission that he’s very intense. Like Jonathon said, “It’s easy to recognize the voice of experience.”

Anyone who plays with language long enough knows that it easily becomes a facade to hide behind. In flamewars past, on listserves, I’ve been accused of hiding behind other people’s words. I cite poets and writers frequently because the more clearly express ideas I’m feeling. And I seek them out because I want to deal with myself and the struggle I can only face through language, having no one beside me to get lost in the stream with. Lately I’ve been sucked into a passage from Browning’s Sordello, and been thinking of making a list like Scott’s.

You're Soaking in it

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You’re soaking in it

I gave up. I was frantically looking for a bit from Henry Miller regarding the difference in attitude between the French and the Americans. Paraphrased, it goes something like this: In America, they teach their children that they can grow up to be president. In France, there is no such delusion. They grow up happier as a result, and more comfortable with who they are. Miller was quick to spot that romantic/pragmatic strain in American thought which brings with it the albatross of possibility, and the sinking feeling that remains when you don’t grow up to be president, and are forever doomed to be who you are instead of someone set apart, special, and above all different from everyone else. But I couldn’t find the quote.

I decided to soak in a tub instead. Something Mike Sanders said was bugging me. “Introspection must ultimately be done in private.” This is of course the hallmark of Wordsworthian romanticism, and goes along with the definition of poetry in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads:

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.
This delineation of introspection as constitutive of feeling and more significantly, that the feelings which come from memory are the most powerful ones of all, has colored Western society— feeling is taken as a private rather than public, reflective rather than reactive, individual rather than collectively consitituted response. This is deeply at odds with human appetites. Humanity is far more social than that. Coleridge, no matter how much he agreed with Wordsworth in theory, subverted it in practice. He was loquacious, providing a great deal of his introspection in public. Thinking of the contradictions of publicly generated privacy gave me a headache, and I really needed to soak my head.