“Overture to a Dance of Locomotives” is not one of Williams’ better known poems. In fact, most of the authoritative critical studies of Williams either mention the poem only in passing or not at all. Generally, the poem seems to find favor with critics who see it as an example of Williams’ zeal for burgeoning American industrialism.
Though neither critic follows up on his claim or offers a reading of the poem, both Peter Halter and Paul Mariani see the poem as endemic of Williams’ interest in futurism.
Peter Schmidt probably offers the most thorough reading of the poem. In his study of Williams and other arts, he argues that the poem gains its strength from the shift in tones. According to Schmidt, Williams begins the poem “by writing a monologue in a single mood” but ends the poem “with a suite of contending voices.” Schmidt also explores the thinly veiled sexuality in the poem, claiming that Williams links the entry and egress of trains with human sexuality. Ultimately, Schmidt sees the poem as Williams’ celebration of the urban world.
Christopher MacGowan picks up on the gallery imagery in the poem and links this imagery with Williams’ reading of the poem at the 1917 Independents Exhibition, which took place at the Grand Central Palace in New York, which had been constructed over the renovated Grand Central Station. MacGowan claims that the descriptions of light work like the “interlocking forms of a...
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