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William Carlos Williams Biography

(1883–1963), Poems, The Tempers, Al Que Quiere!, Spring and All, The Cod Head

American poet, born in Rutherford, New Jersey, where he practised as a paediatrician after studying at the universities of Pennsylvania and Leipzig. As a student he began a long friendship with Ezra Pound, whose innovative concepts had a profound effect on his development as a poet. Poems (1909), his first collection, reflected his admiration for Keats. The Tempers (1913) shows his response to the influences of Walt Whitman and Imagism in its confidently experimental manner. Al Que Quiere! (1917) uses highly individual verse forms designed to establish the cadences of ordinary speech as a basis for his poetry. Fidelity to objective reality and commitment to the primacy of local conditions became the essential concerns of his subsequent writing. He sought to create a poetry of American English which would embody his democratic ideals in its hospitality to all levels and forms of human experience. Thom Gunn's observation that ‘His stylistic qualities are governed…by a tenderness which makes them fully humane’ is particularly relevant to Williams's many poems arising from observation of everyday events, often in the course of his medical work. The long contemplative sequence Spring and All (1923), which modulates between verse and prose for its expansive evocation of place and season, is regarded by some as his finest work. He published no further collections until The Cod Head in 1932; by this time he had aligned himself with the Objectivist poetics of Oppen, Reznikoff, and Zukofsky. The Objectivist Press produced his Collected Poems, 1921–1931 (1934), which was followed by numerous volumes, notably An Early Martyr (1935), The Wedge (1944), The Clouds (1948), and Pictures from Breughel (1962). Paterson (1963) was a major preoccupation from the mid-1940s until his death. His prose works include A Voyage to Pagany (1928), an impressionistic account of a journey to Europe in 1924, and his Autobiography (1951); the novels White Mule (1937), In the Money (1940), and The Build-Up (1952) form a trilogy based on the history of his wife's family. In the American Grain (1925), which discusses the origins and growth of national cultural identity, is the best-known of his collections of essays. C. J. MacGowan's edition of Collected Poems appeared in two volumes in 1987 and 1988. See also Black Mountain Writers and projective verse.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick White (Patrick Victor Martindale White) Biography to David Wojahn Biography