Sunday, December 9, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 26.2 (William Carlos Williams)

Williams, William Carlos

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I think I may have bought this for a course in graduate school, but I can't remember which one. I am pretty sure I bought it for Spring and All, which is printed here complete, unlike in the Selected Poems, where all of the experimental prose bridging the gaps between poems like "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "For Elsie" is still intact.

I remember asking Creeley about that one, why Williams approved a selected poems that focused attention solely on the poems removed from their original context. He didn't really have an answer, though he did say he had puzzled over it himself.

My memory of this book involves Williams's use of the word "imaginations." Prior to having read it, I always thought of quality of mind that allowed for creativity. To me, the phrase "use your imagination" always meant to use this faculty to find a creative solution to a problem. Williams takes uses the term in a more literal sense, something like "the production of images." To imagine something is literally to create an image of it, in the poet's case an image made of words.

Now that I write this, I am unsure whether it was Williams who used the word this way or Creeley himself. Either way, it stayed with me because it sort of ties into the whole idea of the poem as "a machine made of words" that Williams develops in the introduction to The Wedge, one of Creeley's essential books. On some level, you could say that the machine made of words has a function of producing images, "imagining," in the literal sense.

I remember having a discussion with a wealthy lawyer at a fundraising party in Buffalo. He was an older man who had read Mann and Proust and so on as a young man at Harvard, but, he said, he'd always had difficulty reading creative prose or poetry because he could never picture what he was reading. He said it took him so long to read a creative work that he got frustrated and never finished.

On the other hand, he said, he could zip through legal briefs without having to work at it very hard at all. I said I wondered if it had to do with a lack of imagination. He seemed insulted at first, until I explained that I meant "imagination" in a literal sense of "making images." A novel or a poem requires the mind to produce images in order to be understood, whereas a legal brief does not. Perhaps his mind was not inclined to produce images in such a way.  He paused for a moment and then said he thought I was onto something.

from Imaginations

That which is heard from the lips of those to whom we are talking in our day s-aff airs mingles with what we see in the streets and everywhere about us as it mingles also with our imaginations. By this chemistry is fabricated a language of the day which shifts and reveals its meaning as clouds shift and turn in the sky and sometimes send down rain or snow or hail. This is the language to which few ears are tuned so that it is said by poets that few men are ever in their full senses since they have no way to use their imaginations. Thus to say that a man has no imagination is to say nearly that he is blind or deaf. But of old poets would translate this hidden language into a kind of replica of the speech of the world with certain distinctions of rhyme and meter to show that it was not really that speech. Nowadays the elements of that language are set down as heard and the imagination of the listener and of the poet are left free to mingle in the dance.

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