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Books, Journals, New Media
September 17, 2003

Poetry

Author Affiliations
 

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.

JAMA. 2003;290(11):1523-1524. doi:10.1001/jama.290.11.1523

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.

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