“Spring and All” – a response

Jim Sliney Jr 7/13/17

William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All” is a book of poetry … but not a typical one … if there is such a thing.

From the very beginning of this book WCW made a strong point of overturning the public expectation of poetry. His first sentence is bizarre: “If anything of moment results – so much the better.” I literally stopped reading and read again. I suspect that was his intention. To stop the reader from proceeding without carefully taking note that something very different was happening in this text.

“Rhyme you may perhaps take away, but rhythm?!”

His punctuation use is peculiar. I think it is patterned and predictable (I think), but it certainly deviates from convention. I wondered why he did this, concluded I couldn’t get into his head to figure out his motivation, so instead just relied on my experience with it. My new conclusion was that the unconventional punctuation made me stop and consider the nature of statements. Were they questions, or proclamations, or something entirely else?

Then he defied publishing convention by naming his chapters out of order and upside down. The effect this had on me, the reader, was to take each piece of writing for its own merits and not try to create, recreate, or fabricate a flow, despite the presence of the theme of Spring coming – something NEW! The something new may be his approach to feeding poetry to the reader. Only once I arrived at Chapter 1 (on page 15) did I begin to feel like the unpredictability was finally calming down. I felt like I was the dial on an old radio, carefully tuning and turning until the station (WCW’s method) came in clear.

I planted my feet firmly on the new ground of Spring and kept reading. Poems “III” and “IV” are the most normal structures so far. Pastoral and natural in theme. III pits the farmer as the antagonist in a story of forcing the land and its produce to his own will. IV addresses innocence through the visor of looking at the stars before cliché descriptions of the starts were imposed.

Spring. New. New ways of experiencing poetry. If I understand correctly, this could be considered an Ars Poetica for William Carlos Williams.






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