Friday, April 26, 2013

William Carlos Willams

Though I am so very tempted to feature my idol (and yours) Joss Whedon again today, I thought I might change things up a bit and revisit my English teacher roots (that's right...I used to teach English. Fear that.).

April, as some of you may know, is National Poetry Month. It was this time of year when I'd spring upon my students the dreaded poetry unit. William Carlos Williams was always one of my featured poets.

Williams was born in 1883, lived primarily in New Jersey, and died in 1963. He worked as a pediatrician but also received a Pulitzer prize for poetry. His work (writing-wise) was a part of the Imagist movement which was devoted to the creation of poems sticking to four basic principles:

1. Concentration on the image—the thing itself.
2. Use of common language and precise words
3. Creation of new rhythms
4. Freedom of choice subject

The first time I ever heard of Williams was in a high school English class. It was either my sophomore or junior year, but I honestly can't remember which. It doesn't really matter though because the set-up was still the same. My high school English classes typically saw me sitting in the back of the room, my textbook shoved into the corner of my desk and maybe open to the page the teacher had requested while I worked fervently on whatever story I happened to be writing at the time. But, for whatever reason, I happened to look up the day we covered William Carlos Williams and read what is possibly his most famous poem—

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon 

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

My initial teenage reaction to this poem was "Are you freaking kidding me? That guy's famous for this?" My second reaction to this poem was to create in my notebook a special section entitled "Stupid Poetry In The Style of William Carlos Williams" which contained such gems as the following:

In A Nutshell

in a nutshell
are, in fact,
the contents which
compose a nut.

Anyway, teenage ignorance aside, I never forgot the red wheelbarrow poem. It made a very lasting impression upon me, and the more I thought about it (and I thought about it a lot), the more brilliant I found it to be. It's one of my favorite poems now, and part of that is because of how elegantly I think it illustrates what the Imagist poets were trying to do. So I went on to teach it to each and every group of students with which I did a poetry unit. And each and every time, I told the kids about an analysis of this poem that I had once read which stated that this poem was particularly brilliant because even the stanzas looked like wheelbarrows. It led to many fun and spirited debates.

But whatever side the kids landed on, they all ended up spending more time—independent time even—checking out the works of a great American poet and others like him. And others not like him.

Which was, really, the whole point.

Happy Friday, everyone. I hope y'all have a great weekend.

22 comments:

  1. That's great that you were able to open up your students interests in poetry.

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    1. It was always hilarious how many of them at the end of the dreaded poetry unit would say, "I can't believe I had fun reading poetry!"

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  2. Yeah, it doesn't really do it for me, but I'm all for anything that gets kids to read. Here at the end of the school year, I'm spending a lot of time bashing my creative writing kids over the head with "READ!"

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    1. Yeah, just getting them to read something, anything, was my goal.

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  3. I bet you were one of those cool English teachers. :)

    I once took a whole semester course on Robert Frost. It really is fascinating when you delve deep into a poet and his/her life and work as opposed to just reading a poem here and there.

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    1. Well, I tried to be a non-traditional English teacher. Who knows how successful I was.

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  4. In those days, it was more difficult for people to get published. So the ones that did were kind of put on a pedestal. I kind of think the Catcher in the Rye published today wouldn't even make a splash at all and probably J.D. Salinger would be relegated to nothingness in history.

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    1. I never liked The Catcher In the Rye. Never taught it in my classroom.

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  5. It's taken me a while to come around to WCW. Initially, I had the same reaction in high school as you did, with the codicil: Well, at least it was short. But now I'm a slight fan. I'm more of an Emily Dickinson kind of gal.

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    1. It took me a while to come around on Emily Dickinson, longer than WCW, but I got there eventually.

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  6. Well, you can't get any more profound than that nutshell poem.

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    1. Profound. Yep, that's me all right. =)

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  7. A most excellent observation that the actual stanzas look like wheelbarrows. I'd never seen that before. :))

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    1. I'd never seen it before that analysis either, but now I can't not see it.

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  8. I've never heard of Williams before. Thank you for the lesson! I'm not a huge poetry fan myself but I like the elegant simplicity of his.

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  9. I've never heard of him either, but then again, I don't follow poets.

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  10. Well h is one I haven't checked out, but think perhaps I should!

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  11. I'm another that's never heard of him. Of course, my high school English teachers were either drilling us about grammar (which turned out to be very useful to me), or it was AP, where we frantically tried to get through many, many books in a short amount of time.

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  12. I don't get it.

    I'm so pathetic.

    The only poetry I usually understand...song lyrics.

    I hope you don't lose respect for me.

    :)
    HMG

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  13. I'm studying a literature module at the moment and poetry is definitely my weak point. It takes me so long and so many rereads to 'get' whats going on in the poem. I get there eventually (I think) but it takes a lot more effort.

    Thanks for the introduction to a new poet.

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  14. I didn't notice that the stanzas (am I using that term right) looked like wheelbarrows till you pointed it out and I went back and had a look, awesome. I love that something wheedled it's way into your brain so much that you have passed it onto others and inspired them. Fablis.

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  15. I've not read his work, but wow! And I do love your initial reaction. Mine was the same for Dickinson, who is one of my favorites.

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