Friday January 8 2021 12–1:15
A session dedicated to exploring William Carlos Williams’s thinking about the nature, function and operation of the mind. What would it mean to read Williams without privileging familiar terms and categories like imagism, objectivism or, more provocatively, the ordinary things which have so often anchored critical treatments of his work?
Mark C. Long, Keene State College
“Writing Mind: Improvisation, Imagination, and Textual Form in William Carlos Williams,” James H. S. Searle, U at Albany, State U of New York
“William Carlos Williams and the Traditions of English Georgic,” Sam Hushagen, U of Washington, Seattle
William Carlos Williams remains one of the most probing and subtle philosophical poets of the 20th century. But as is so often the case with important writers, his familiarity to students and critics, and his wide-reaching influence on a diverse set of poets, has set into motion ready-made commonplaces that often conceal his greatest affordances for critical speculation in the present. Our sustained focus on the gritty, local, American particularities of his most famous poems seems to have prevented us from recognizing that from beginning to end the mind is one of Williams’s most cherished subjects for poetic reflection.
What would it mean to read Williams without privileging familiar terms and categories like imagism, objectivism or, more provocatively, the ordinary things which have so often anchored critical treatments of his work? It has become increasingly difficult to focus on the complex, counterintuitive modes of normative reflection native to poetic thinking without all too quick explanatory appeals to material, social and historical contexts. Though it is true that Williams is a poet for whom such contexts are vital, many of his most able readers neglect his assertion that “the poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity.” In light of recent debates about the disciplinary centrality of both close reading and aesthetic form, reflecting on how Williams thinks in and with his poems about the nature of the mind might aid teachers and critics in imagining a more philosophically robust and epistemologically modest vision of literary studies for the twenty-first century.