William Carlos Williams’ anecdote on meeting T.S. Eliot / by Allen Ginsberg / as told to Bockris-Wylie

W.C. Williams anecdote meeting T.S. Eliot

by

Allen Ginsberg

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.

Allen Ginsberg

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.

“Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams” — Kenneth Koch

“Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams”

by

Kenneth Koch


1

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next
summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

2

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

3

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten
years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

4

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy, and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

“A Sort of Song” — William Carlos Williams

“Classic Scene” — William Carlos Williams

“Classic Scene”

by

William Carlos Williams


A power-house
in the shape of
a red brick chair
90 feet high

on the seat of which
sit the figures
of two metal
stacks–aluminum–

commanding an area
of squalid shacks
side by side–
from one of which

buff smoke
streams while under
a grey sky
the other remains

passive today–

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Classic Landscape, 1931 by Charles Sheeler (1883–1965)

“4th of July” — William Carlos Williams

“4th of July”

by

William Carlos Williams


I

The ship moves
but its smoke
moves with the wind
faster than the ship

— thick coils of it
through leafy trees
pressing
upon the river

II

The heat makes
this place of the woods
a room
in which two robins pain

crying
distractedly
over the plight of
their unhappy young

III

During the explosions
at dawn, the celebrations
I could hear
a native cuckoo

in the distance
as at dusk, before
I’d heard
a night hawk calling

“Haymaking” — William Carlos Williams

“Haymaking”

by

William Carlos Williams


The living quality of
the man’s mind
stands out

and its covert assertions
for art, art, art!
painting

that the Renaissance
tried to absorb
but

it remained a wheat field
over which the
wind played

men with scythes tumbling
the wheat in
rows

the gleaners already busy
it was his own—
magpies

the patient horses no one
could take that
from him

 

die_heuernte
Haymaking (July), 
1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569)

 

“Tree and Sky” — William Carlos Williams

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“Spring” — William Carlos Williams

“Pigheaded Poet” — William Carlos Williams

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“Fire Spirit” — William Carlos Williams

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“Trees” — William Carlos Williams

“The Girl” — William Carlos Williams

the girl

“The Uses of Poetry” — William Carlos Williams

uses

“To Greet a Letter-Carrier” — William Carlos Williams

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“At the Bar” — William Carlos Williams

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“May 1st Tomorrow” — William Carlos Williams

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“Drugstore Library” — William Carlos Williams