Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University
of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.
One of the drawbacks of a successful writing career and wide readership
is that after your death your journals and juvenilia will be exhumed, studied,
and republished—a drawback, that is, from the point of view of the writer
who, as William Carlos Williams did, prefers that his early efforts remain
buried in comfortable obscurity.
Some might be inclined to agree with Williams' own assessment of his
early (1906-1908) poems: "bad Keats, nothing else—oh well, bad Whitman,
too. . . . There is not one thing of the slightest value in the whole thin
booklet—except the intent." Both his father and Ezra Pound dismissed
the volume with scathing criticism, softened only by the suggested reading
list Pound appended to his response, along with a verbal pat on the back to
the discouraged young poet: "Avanti e coraggio!" But, despite the conspicuous
lack of originality or imagery of the kind that later distinguished his best-known
work, these poems, as Virginia Wright-Peterson points out in her engaging
introduction, offer a unique perspective on the development of Williams' aesthetic
and craft. Complemented by seven pages of facsimile notes from the European
trip he took after Poems had clearly failed (it sold
four copies and the rest burned in a storage-room fire), they offer a fascinating
study of developing style. In the contrast between the published poems and
the subsequent notes on poetry, we see an aesthetic in the making.
McEntyre M. Poetry. JAMA. 2003;290(11):1523-1524. doi:10.1001/jama.290.11.1523