Tag Archives: William Carlos Williams

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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What are your favorite short stories?

Updated 3:15 p.m. July 1

I’m a former newspaper guy who studied literary nonfiction (a.k.a. creative nonfiction) for his graduate degree, a master of fine arts, not a master of arts in literature.

So that’s my disclaimer about these choices.

And please comment with your favorites, however many you have.

Of course, some of these choices come from textbooks I’ve used while teaching, while others come from unrequired reading.

Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — one of my first short-story loves

“May Day” by F. Scott Fitzgerald — a relatively large cast of characters for a funny and devastating story

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver — the finest secular understanding of spiritual elevation

A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor — placing the Gospel message in the mouth of a criminal, while showing us the false facade of a Southern woman’s faith

“The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams — a taut, tight thriller of a short story written by a doctor who also was a leader in poetry’s Imagist movement

“Flight” by John Steinbeck — this vivid pursuit in arid lands has stuck with me for decades, literally

“Accident” by Dave Eggers — a relatively minor car accident becomes a meaningful look into the human condition

“Incarnations of Burned Children” by David Foster Wallace — tight, unflinching, horrific, with a deep symbolic move

“Bigfoot Stole My Wife” by Ron Carlson — a hysterical journey through denial and the basis for belief

“Powder” by Tobias Wolff — redeeming a mess of a Dad in the unlikeliest setting

“The School” by Donald Barthelme — creepy students seep through the oblivious narrator’s perspective

“Elephant Feelings” by John Haskell — an historically based look at an elephant who was executed

“The Schreuderspitze” by Mark Helprin — could a dream be better than an actual achievement?

“Letters from the Samantha” by Mark Helprin — a different kind of albatross

“Frontiers” by John M. Daniel — a 5-year-old on a new adventure, short and perfect (only 101 words)

My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne — striking images from the pre-Revolutionary era surround a boy’s journey from the country to the city, where he figures out his search for his kinsman is a joke at his expense

The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe — using kindness and a common interest to exact revenge

The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe — the godfather of the detective story gets started with a case of hiding in plain sight

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson — a psychologically astute (and horrific) use of the third-person-objective point of view

Tip Jar

So much depends upon / a drunken text message / sent by a farmer / attempting poetry

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