See biographies by R. Coles (1975) and P. Mariani (1981); studies by J. E. Breslin (1970), S. Tapscott (1984), S. Cushman (1985), and A. Fisher-Wirth (1989).
(born Sept. 17, 1883, Rutherford, N.J., U.S.—died March 4, 1963, Rutherford) U.S. poet. Trained as a pediatrician, Williams wrote poetry and practiced medicine in his hometown. He is noted for making the ordinary appear extraordinary through clear and discrete imagery, as in the fresh and direct impressions of the sensuous world expressed in “The Red Wheelbarrow,” from Spring and All (1923). Paterson (1946–58), a five-part long poem, evokes a complex vision of modern American life. In 1963 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Pictures from Brueghel (1962). His numerous prose works include essays, a trilogy of novels, short stories, drama, and autobiography.
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William Carlos Williams (17 September 1883 – 4 March 1963), was an American poet closely associated with modernism and Imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. Williams "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician," wrote biographer Linda Wagner-Martin. During his long lifetime, Williams excelled both as a poet and a physician.
Williams married Florence Herman (1891-1976) in 1912. They moved into a house in Rutherford which was their home for many years. Shortly afterwards, his first book of serious poems, The Tempers, was published. On a trip to Europe in 1924, Williams spent time with writers Ezra Pound and James Joyce. Flossie and Williams's sons stayed behind in Europe to experience living abroad for a year as Williams and his brother had in their youth.
Although his primary occupation was as a doctor, Williams had a full literary career. His work consists of short stories, poems, plays, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, translations and correspondence. He wrote at night and spent weekends in New York City with friends - writers and artists like the avant-garde painters Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia and the poets Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore. He became involved in the Imagist movement but soon he began to develop opinions that differed from those of his poetic peers, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Later in his life, Williams toured the United States giving poetry readings and lectures.
Williams disliked Ezra Pound's and especially T. S. Eliot's frequent use of allusions to foreign languages and Classical sources, as in Eliot's The Waste Land. Williams preferred to draw his themes from what he called "the local." In his modernist epic collage of place, Paterson (published between 1946 and 1958), an account of the history, people, and essence of Paterson, New Jersey, he examined the role of the poet in American society. Williams most famously summarized his poetic method in the phrase "No ideas but in things" (found in his 1927 poem "Patterson," the forerunner to the book-length work). He advocated that poets leave aside traditional poetic forms and unnecessary literary allusions, and try to see the world as it is. Marianne Moore, another skeptic of traditional poetic forms, wrote Williams had used "plain American which cats and dogs can read," with distinctly American idioms.
One of his most notable contributions to American literature was his willingness to be a mentor for younger poets. Though Pound and Eliot may have been more lauded in their time, a number of important poets in the generations that followed were either personally tutored by Williams or pointed to Williams as a major influence. He had an especially significant influence on many of the American literary movements of the 1950s: poets of the Beat Generation, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Mountain school, and the New York School. He personally mentored Charles Olson, who was instrumental in developing the poetry of the Black Mountain College and subsequently influenced many other poets. Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, two other poets associated with Black Mountain, studied under Williams. Williams was friends with Kenneth Rexroth, the founder of the San Francisco Renaissance. A lecture Williams gave at Reed College was formative in inspiring three other important members of that Renaissance: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Lew Welch. One of Williams's most dynamic relationships as a mentor was with fellow New Jerseyite Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg claimed that Williams essentially freed his poetic voice. Williams included several of Ginsberg's letters in Paterson, stating that one of them helped inspire the fifth section of that work. Williams also wrote introductions to two of Ginsberg's books, including Howl. Williams sponsored unknown poets such as H.H. Lewis, a radical Missouri Communist poet, who he believed wrote in the voice of the people. Though Williams consistently loved the poetry of those he mentored, he did not always like the results of his influence on other poets (the perceived formlessness, for example, of other Beat Generation poets). Williams believed more in the interplay of form and expression.
In May 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His major works are Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), Paterson (1963, repr. 1992), and Imaginations (1970). The Poetry Society of America continues to honor William Carlos Williams by presenting an annual award in his name for the best book of poetry published by a small, non-profit or university press.
Williams tried to invent an entirely fresh form, an American form of poetry whose subject matter was centered on everyday circumstances of life and the lives of common people. He then came up with the concept of the variable foot evolved from years of visual and auditory sampling of his world from the first person perspective as a part of the day in the life as a physician. The variable foot is rooted within the multi-faceted American Idiom. This discovery was a part of his keen observation of how radio and newspaper influenced how people communicated and represents the "machine made out of words" (as he described a poem in the introduction to his book, The Wedge) just as the mechanistic motions of a city can become a consciousness. Williams didn’t use traditional meter in most of his poems. His correspondence with Hilda Doolittle also exposed him to the relationship of sapphic rhythms to the inner voice of poetic truth:
This is to be contrasted with a poem from Pictures from Brueghel titled "Shadows":