W.C. Williams anecdote meeting T.S. Eliot
as told to Bockris-Wylie
Note: This isn’t an article deliberately written nor an interview untouched. It’s conversation transcribed, edited punctuated and condensed by interviewers. The words are mine but the style of transcription – timing, context, punctuation, tone – is mostly by Bockris–Wiley handiwork.
6 February 74
I never met Eliot, I just saw him reading at the Y once. Marianne Moore was in the audience and I remember him saying, “and now I have a request from somebody to read Dry Salvages, a request which is in command, coming from so distinguished a poet as Miss Moore, as it does.” Very elegant! And then he read some poems written thirty years before.
It was nice to hear him read them in person, but it was very diplomatic, he was too stiff, or much locked in a single image, it would have been interesting if he had had a little bit of Dali’s element of Surprise. I remember I told Robert Duncan when we (Orlovsky & Kerouac) were going to go and see Dali, and Duncan very sweetly said, “Please give him my respects, and say that he has always enchanted us as the genius of surprise.”
So it would have been interesting to see Eliot pulling out some element of surprise, like coming on the stage half–naked, wearing a grape fig haircut, or coming on dressed like a bishop or some kind of pope in drag, or in an 18th-century courtiers costume, or –improvising a poem right there on the stage. Something really astounding – would have been another Eliot.
Williams had a bony-nosed dislike of Eliot, characterized by Williams statement “Eliot was such a great genius he set American poetry back thirty years.”
What really pissed Williams off, Williams once told me, they met once, (and they’ve been rivals for the aesthetic affections of Pound) — and Williams said that Eliot was introduced to him: “Oh, Dr. Williams, how marvelous to meet you. I read many of your characters, you should write more of them. I do admire the characters you’ve done.” By characters he meant the old english form, it’s an outline of a person, a social picture sketch, character of the happy warrior, etc.
Williams said, “Why that son of a bitch! I’ve never heard . . . Completely patronizing!” I think Williams objection was that Eliot was trying to interpret Williams efforts in terms of English traditionalism — Eliot’s forms and formulas and terminalogic categories – rather than acknowledge the specific thing Williams was trying to do, which was to write something uncategorically American, raw eared and Rutherford-eyed
(That’s the only meeting they ever had apparently. And I don’t think it’s been recorded anywhere.)
This text was published in The World #29, April 1974. “Bockris-Wylie” refers to a writing partnership between Victor Brockis (whose Lou Reed biography is good trashy fun) and Andrew Wylie, who later became a powerful literary agent (I have gotten multiple takedown notices from the Wylie Agency in the past.
I have done my best to replicate the original typography of The World’s piece, including their complete disrespect of the possessive apostrophe.