Entries tagged with “William Carlos Williams” from this Public Address 1.0

Sleeping with Pocahontas

I became interested in the poet Hart Crane for an odd reason. I suppose it’s not that odd, if you know me, that is. I was listening to a bootleg of Neil Young at the London Festival Hall from February 12, 1971, and he introduced a song like this:

This is a song I wrote about uh. . .

I don’t know how many of you have heard of a poet called Hart Crane, he wrote a poem called The Bridge among other things. . .

and uh, I’d just been reading it . . .and I wrote this song.

I started out feeling like I was Hart Crane so I wrote this song called “The Bridge”
If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a sad/hopeful piano tune which wasn’t released until the 1973 album Time Fades Away

Shortly after that, I bought Hart Crane’s Collected Poems, though I didn’t have the time to give it that it deserved, because I was knee-deep in W.B. Yeats. I finally got around to giving it a close read, as I reflected on the fact that the first edition of this poem was also Walker Evan’s first big break. I recall being rather confused by most of Crane’s poems, and the book had been sitting on my shelf for at least two years. Sometimes, poems don’t find you until you need them.

Because it was neatly nestled in the middle of the Collected Works, I didn’t realize that the poem To Brooklyn Bridge was just an introduction to a sort of American epic, which dances on the line of social engagement and detached aesthetic sense. And I didn’t know that Hart Crane committed suicide at the age of 32, and was a tortured homosexual. Crane worked on The Bridge for almost ten years, and felt that it was incomplete, a fragment that he just couldn’t bring together. Finding that out, brought Neil Young’s song into sharp focus:

The bridge, we'll build it now
It may take a lot of time
And it maybe lonely but
Ooh baby, ooh baby.

The bridge was falling down
And that took a lot of lies
And it made me lonely
Ooh baby, ooh baby.

The bridge was falling.
The bridge was falling.
The bridge was falling.
Powahatan’s most famous daughter, Pocahontas.Crane wrote The Bridge as an answer to T.S. Eliot’s “Wasteland” because he felt that it presented too negative a view of the modern condition. It is, in essence a sort of tragic love poem to America composed in eight parts. I’m still rolling in it, thinking of what I want to say. I’ve spent little time with modern poets, largely because of a huge distaste for Eliot and Pound, but I’m making an effort to get over it. Hart Crane and William Carlos Williams have helped.

The enterprise of trying to write about deep topics on my blog forces me to let go of chronology and focus, while at the same time they assert themselves. I wanted to write about Walker Evans. But my Tristram Shandy mind has me writing about Neil Young, and thinking of the second part of Crane’s poem, “Powahatan’s Daughter,” and wondering about the entire process of myth construction, as it says on the Smithsonian web site:

Historians have pieced together her life from the accounts of others, most notably her friend, Capt. John Smith, whose veracity of detail and recollection is, to put it mildly, questionable. During the intervening four centuries others have showered her with virtues. Poets and writers from Thackeray to Hart Crane celebrated her charm. More lately rocker Neil Young sang, "I would give a thousand pelts / To...find out how she felt." And now we have the animated eco-warrior princess from Disney.
I really wish they wouldn’t sanitize lyrics this way. The exact lyric is:
I wish a was a trapper
I would give thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin'
    on the fields of green
In the homeland
    we've never seen.

And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We'll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome
    and the first tepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me
I suspect that most people miss the irony here. The vision of America we hold is an illusion, a myth for hire if you can afford the price of admission.

And that’s all there, with much more, in Hart Crane’s Bridge.

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies dreaming sod,
Unto the lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the Curveship lend a myth to God.

I think the sad song of America took a big twist through Hart Crane on its way to the Beats and Neil Young. I think that all of them fail in one way or another, but it’s America’s nature to try and fail. I'll get back to Walker Evans, when I get back to that confounded bridge.

Rainy Day, Dream Away

A rainy day.

Took my car in to get serviced; it looks like its going to be another hot summer next year. They want $1,100 to fix my air-conditioning. Not this time, sorry. I made it through this summer without it, so I suppose I'll do the same 4-60 air-conditioning next year. Rented a brand new Toyota Camry to get around while it's in the shop getting the brakes fixed and the timing-belt changed. It feels like driving a space-ship. I suppose I've just become accustomed to the rattles of a Ford.

I have a lot of writing to do, but I haven't had much sleep. I keep getting increasingly frustrated with language.

                                        Pity philosophies of
daily exits and entrances, with books
propping up one end of a shaky table—
The vague accuracies of events dancing two
and two with language which they
forever surpass—and dawns
tangled in darkness—

William Carlos Williams, Paterson 1:ii



For William Carlos Williams

Took a poetry break.

Just opening the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry at random, I stumbled upon a poem by Galway Kinnell. I like it. I like it a lot. I've been reading bits of Paterson by William Carlos Williams lately, and given the current climate when I've read prose lately, this one really struck a nerve


Much Madness is divinest sense—
To a discerning eye—
Much sense—the starkest Madness—
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail—
Assent—and you are sane—
Demur—you’re straightaway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain—

Emily Dickinson, #435

Bought The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry tonight. I'm not familiar with much past W.B.Yeats, so I figured it was time to catch up. William Carlos Williams wiped the taste of T.S. Eliot out of my mouth. I still don't know why I hated him so much.

It’s amazing how the right poem always seems to pop up at the right time. Watched Hannibal earlier. I can empathize with the poor cop with the screw-top head at the end. It feels like I’m doing that sort of surgery, self-inflicted, trying to figure out which piece to carve off and fry up next.

Denise Duhamel

Kinky by Denise Duhamel

I met a really good poet tonight.

Denise Duhamel is a passionately nice person. Her sense of humor is really what I needed right about now. I went to a reading, seduced at first by Leslie's raving about her, and later by what I found of hers on the web. There's a lot out there.

But I bought a couple of books anyway. Kinky is a book of poems about Barbie. How can you resist poems with such titles as "Barbie, Her Identity as an Extraterrestrial Finally Suspected, Bravely Battles the Interogation of the Pentagon Task Force Who's Captured Her"?

Duhamel read the most appropriate one for the times tonight, "One Afternoon when Barbie Wanted to Join the Military," whose concluding lines are something worth thinking about:

As GI Joe bullied Ken into a headlock,
Barbie told the boys to cut it out. She threatened
that if he kept it up, GI Joe would
never get that honorable discharge.
Even when it's cracking a joke, poetry is language working as hard as it can.

Doing Documentary Work

a very significant bookDoing Documentary Work should be required reading.
For anyone who wants to describe reality, that is.

The past few days there have been a massive convergence of themes in my head. I spent the first half of my life working as a photographer, and now I’m trying to make sense of things as a writer. I suppose I’ve been drawing connections, and creating a new philosophy as I go, and for the first time I’ve found the majority of these ideas brought together in a single book.

I wish books like Doing Documentary Work were around when I first adopted the life. I felt intuitively from the beginning that photography was a “means of understanding” and that it was at its best when it was used as “a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's originality.” I quoted the full passage from HCB just a few days ago, and the words “documentary photography” were not even available when Bresson and Kertéz began photographing. But people like these were my models, my heroes, before I knew what the words were supposed to mean. Robert Coles develops the idea into a much broader and more useful context.

Coles began as a psychiatrist doing field research and questioning the limits of impartiality. Currently, he teaches Documentary studies at Harvard and is the editor of Doubletake Magazine.