"Good, if startling stuff": The improvisational as psychological in William Carlos Williams
Bartkowski, Lindsay J.
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William Carlos Williams, in his 1928 review of George Antheil’s "Ballet Mecanique," presented a most concise articulation of his artistic project at this moment in his career. As one accustomed to the needlessly harsh words of his critics, Williams’ recognizes, in New York’s criticism of Antheil, something with which he identified. It is this identification, prompted by his friendship with Antheil and their shared experience in Paris in 1924, that allows Williams’ review to be understood as his ars poetica . Though given little attention both at the time of its publication and now, the piece describes Williams’ understanding of the psychological function of modern art in illuminating and significant ways. His ideals align largely with Walter Benjamin’s understanding of the poetry of Charles Baudelaire in "Some Motifs on Baudelaire." Utilizing Benjamin’s essay, one can begin to recognize the aspect of the psychological at work in Williams’ poetry. In his improvisational pieces, particularly Spring and All and A Novelette , it is clear that Williams considers writing to serve as psychotherapy for both himself and his readership. It is my contention that, through his relationship with Antheil, his experience in Paris, and his fresh understanding of the psychological function of modern art, we can see Williams’ poetry and prose significantly advance from the early 1920s to the early 1930s. In this decade, Williams is influenced both by the aforementioned factors and his personal life, as evidenced by the autobiographical and self-reflexive nature of Spring and All and A Novelette . In closely examining both pieces in relation to each other and their proposed sources of influence, I intend to show that Williams’ project by 1932 is entirely refigured. While earlier concerned with his popularity and the acceptance of his peers, he has by 1932 come to understand his position in the modernist community in a new way. No longer does he write for acceptance, but chiefly for personal satisfaction. I will illustrate the ways in which Williams’ poetics is defined and redefined in his improvisational and experimental pieces, all of the influential factors in mind.