Pure Poetry #22: William Carlos Williams and Beyond

Pure Poetry Week(s):

#1 – 2/23/2011 – Intro & Def Poetry Jam, by Riese
#2 – 2/23/2011 – Eileen Myles, by Carmen
#3 – 2/23/2011 – Anis Mojgani, by Crystal
#4 – 2/24/2011 – Andrea Gibson, by Carmen & Katrina/KC Danger
#5 – 2/25/2011 – Leonard Cohen, by Crystal
#6 – 2/25/2011 – Staceyann Chin, by Carmen
#7 – 2/25/2011 – e.e. cummings, by Intern Emily
#8 – 2/27/2011 – Louise Glück, by Lindsay
#9 – 2/28/2011 – Shel Silverstein, by Intern Lily & Guest
#10 – 2/28/2011 – Michelle Tea, by Laneia
#11 – 2/28/2011 – Saul Williams, by Katrina Chicklett Danger
#12 – 3/2/2011 – Maya Angelou, by Laneia
#13 – 3/4/2011 – Jack Spicer, by Riese
#14 – 3/5/2011 – Diane DiPrima, by Sady Doyle
#15 – 3/6/2011 – Pablo Neruda, by Intern Laura
#16 – 3/7/2011 – Vanessa Hidary, by Lindsay
#17 – 3/7/2011 – Adrienne Rich, by Taylor
#18 – 3/8/2011 – Raymond Carver, by Riese
#19 – 3/9/2011 – Rock WILK, by Gabrielle
#20 – 3/9/2011 – Veronica Franco, by Queerie Bradshaw
#22 – 3/12/2011 – William Carlos Williams & Robert Creeley, by Becky

IT’S STILL POETRY WEEK EVERYBODY. And today I’ve decided to bring you an all-sorts-of-modern-American triumvirate of William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and Gareth Lee.

Original Illustration for Autostraddle by Maya

Original Illustration for Autostraddle by Maja

A high-school favorite, William Carlos Williams has a knack for saying so much with so little. While some of his most popular poems are short and charmingly accessible–

Red Wheelbarrow

So much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

–that does not stop them from sparking the figments in our imaginations and the kind of thoughts that cause us to think and rethink.

There are benefits to this of course, and the succinct succulence of his poems has been known to turn people on to the art of reciting poetry — being able to quote things can be stylish, too. Sometimes having something visual to say can be nice to hear.

All this is to say, really, that if you have not already memorized William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just To Say”, I recommend you take the time to do so now:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It comes in handy, if, like me, you need to write your roommate an apology note freshman year of college because you ate all of the ‘community’ gummy bears one painfully unsober night:

Don’t expect it to always work, though. Especially if you misspell delicious.

I want to eat poems when I am hungry, don’t you? I bet they’d taste like Earl Grey tea and fried chicken. And plums. All in all, it’s generally a good idea 1) not to eat other people’s food and 2) to read William Carlos Williams poems.

He was also friends with cool people like Ezra Pound

Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.

and Charles Olson.

(L to R; WCW, Pound, Olson)

And corresponded with a young Robert Creeley:

And even though Robert Creeley would lose in a google fight to Pound and Olson, I’m going to throw him some love. He wrote this:

A Warning

For love-I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

and this poem called Yesterdays where he name drops a whole bunch of people with twinges of existential and transcendental goodness.

Robert Creeley passed away not too long ago in 2005, inspiring a young Gareth Lee to introduce Creeley’s work to his English class. A mentor of sorts to me, Lee composed poems I enjoyed more or less ‘hot off the press.’


Suddenly the broadcast voice on the radio inflects a Southern accent. In this
context, we go out. It is morning on the hill. On the hill, there is a lucid incline. And a
freeze has cleared the atmosphere, and the light has cleaned us up, and we
abstract our general statement, brace the lucid incline, and slide.

The weather, with its breeze, is anesthesia. The weather excavates some snow off
the ground and invites us like ice. And so we go back in, where the broadcast
voices on the radio inflect Southern accents, where we lunch. Thus, with guacamole
dye, my shirt is stained. I am the slide, anesthetized, now dirtied

with guacamole dye. Now I never can be that lay male innocent with no need for
priestly help. Now I am done for. On the broadcast radio, the right wing invites the
left wing in for a clap. It is simple. It is symbolic. Over cards, I see your sloe gin and
meet it with tequila. We get drunk early. We listen intently.

We shut the caller up and determine our combat mode. We wave the Union flag
and napkins, our napkins, are stained with guacamole. The caller maintains his
broken household. The caller keeps the native base intact. I want to shut the caller
up and give the bastard his papa. I want to join him in singing a duet.

Lee has a way with words I will always appreciate. He moves them around and they move him around and I like reading them. Anyway, what’s your favorite William Carlos Williams poem from high-school? Is it this one?

To a Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

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I'm Becky. I write about style because I think anybody can look great and I think everybody usually does. I'm into self-expression. I'm into being expressive. When I'm not writing about style for Autostraddle I'm usually trying to make a film. I'm also a dancer, so I will Gahu with you anytime, anywhere.

Becky has written 23 articles for us.


    • “There Will Be Rest”

      There will be rest, and sure stars shining
      Over the roof-tops crowned with snow,
      A reign of rest, serene forgetting,
      The music of stillness holy and low.

      I will make this world of my devising
      Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
      I shall find the crystal of peace, – above me
      Stars I shall find.

  1. Love love love WCW. No one I’ve ever met likes him so it makes me happy to see other people actually like him, not just tolerate him because he’s in the “literary canon.”
    Favorite from high school was definitely “This Is Just To Say.” We didn’t read it in class, I just turned to a random page and there was this piece that wasn’t like anything else we’d read and made me have ~feelings~ for reasons I couldn’t identify. <3

  2. Just wanted to say thanks for the link: been browsing your site and it looks like there’s lots of quality writing here, including this entry.

    I definitely think you might want to spend some time with Kay Ryan’s work. I’ve gotten a lot out of it recently.

  3. Laneia?
    I drew this two weeks ago? And now i’m really drunk, but it would be cooler if you just told me that you didn’t like it? Sorry, I’m being rude. But really.

    • Hey, I’m really really sorry about this. I should stay away from my computer when I come home drunk. I’m sorry.

  4. HA, I totally did that same variation on “This is just to say” back when I was a clueless and pretentious sophomore English major! mine wasn’t gummy bears though, it was pastaroni or something, we lived on that stuff.
    I do like how quotable W.C.W. is. And the drawing of the lady’s response made me laugh.
    He had a thing for plums huh?

  5. i have written like an embarassing amount of “this is just to say” poems. by ex used to leave me notes like “this is just to say/i have taken your car to canada/forgive me/i can drink there/it is so sweet/and so cold” . also our literary journal at interlochen was called “the red wheelbarrow” and we thought it would be funny to start an erotic literary journal called “the red hot wheelbarrow” but then we got in trouble with the head of the department. anyhow great post!

  6. I used to help run a writing contest for middle schoolers and I’m pretty sure that one year we gave a prize to “letter from a giant” that said something along the lines of “I am sorry for stepping on your mother….She was so small/and so hard to see.”

  7. I saw white men and hoped Richard Brautigan.

    But, yeah, these three are great and I like them very much. And this article is well-written and I like Pure Poetry week (month? please) very much. So I won’t get cranky/indignant/rude/ridiculous.

  8. Fuck yeah, WCW. My favorites are To Elsie or Sunbathers.
    And, Dijmosse^ I hoped for Brautigan too.
    love me some Death is a Car Parked Only.

  9. Your Gummy This is Just to Say made my day, along with the picture underneath. Always been a favorite, and possibly the only poem I’ve ever had memorized. It’s just so good.

  10. omg This is Just to Say is on my wall RIGHT NOW. And my facebook profile. AND my AS profile.

    i guess thats overkill when i think about it but who can find a better filler when there’s nothing better to say?

    eee eee <3


    One time at uni, we stole our next-door neighbours’ clothes pegs (they were really cute and small and pink). Anyway, when they finally noticed, they sent us a demand letter, to which my friends and I responded with a peg variation of This is Just to Say. So delicious and sweet and cold…

    To which they responded with “fucking weirdos, you eat pegs.”

    It was the start of a long and violent night.

    Thank you autostraddle for bringing back memories…

  12. W.C.W. is like one of my favorites of all time, and then i see This Is Just to Say written on some girl’s bare stomach… ultimate win.

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