Literary critic Marjorie Perloff once made the claim that when the history of free verse is written, William Carlos Williams will be a primary figure. Such were the words that turned my attention back to Williams. But it wasn't until a friend sent me a passage from Paterson: Book II
"Sunday in the Park" that I began to truly appreciate Williams's range and power. Paterson
is a long poem set in Paterson, New Jersey, and was originally published as five separate books over a decade. Later, such a literary landmark would make an impact on the poetry and poetics of Charles Olsen's Maximus Poems
and related branches of contemporary American poetry/poetics. Paterson
's charm is in the juxtaposition of different literary elements — from news accounts to long prose passages to sculpted verse sections. All the stuff of life is in Paterson
: there are passages on the alienation and suffering caused by the lack of epistolary contact and communication and sections ripe with power struggles and longing. Moreover, that famous declaration "no ideas but in things" comes from the section "The Delineaments of the Giants" from Book I
Here, a thought-provoking passage from Book II:
I asked him, What do you do?
He smiled patiently, The typical American question. In Europe they would ask, What are you doing? Or, What are you doing now?
What do I do? I listen, to the water falling. (No sound of it here but with the wind!) This is my entire occupation.