MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Poetry’s “Thereness”

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

William Carlos Williams: passport photo, 1921 William Carlos Williams: passport photo, 1921

In “Reading the Difficult: A new critique of the New Criticism” – an article in this month’s Poetry magazine – Peter Quartermain reflects on the confounding “simplicity” of the kinds of poems that the New Critics disdained. With all their armory of explication de texte, interpretive analysis, and scansion exercises, they were at a loss when confronted with poems that don’t “care whether you are puzzled or not” but simply exist as “an event, and you can join it, take part in, or not.”

Especially in the case of the short poems of William Carlos Williams, there is an “implacability in the language that resists both paraphrase and explication. The language is so spare, the details so sparse, the statement so stubbornly there before the reader, uncompromising, that the reader’s knowledge cannot intervene, cannot interfere with the poem; indeed it renders that knowledge…

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