This Is Just to Say
William Carlos Williams
“No ideas but in things” wrote WCW in his “A Sort of Song” – it was a line that summarized his approach to poetry, an approach that made him a forerunner of the colloquial modernist movement that arose in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Hugely influential on American poetry in subsequent decades – notably the Beats and New York school – Williams created a poetry that was uniquely American in language and style, and which quite explicitly sought to make art from the everyday.
“This Is Just to Say” is written as an everyday domestic note – an ‘oh, I ate the plums’ moment. And perhaps it was just that. Some analysts maintain it is indeed a ‘found poem’, its creation accidental. Others, though, delve into all the potential hidden meanings, the plum as love, desire, sex. Still others emphasize the structure of the poem, its layout on the page, as revolutionary, locating the lasting significance of the piece in this rather than its content. Take your pick. Doesn’t really matter, at the end of the day. It is one of the most important of modernist American poems, and Williams one of the country’s and the century’s most influential writers of poetry.
A medical doctor by trade, writing was WCW’s true love. Associated with Ezra Pound in the early years, with his mentorship of Alan Ginsberg and others later in life, and his open disagreement with the likes of T.S. Eliot over poetry as intellectual endeavour vs poetry as the everyday – Williams was all over the twentith century, all over modernist literature, and is, today, all over poetry.