With Ignorance (Magill's Literary Annual 1978)
This is an intriguing, insistent, difficult book. Readers too comfortable with their preconceptions about poetry will have a hard time with it, but it rewards patience with unique delight. To begin with, the book’s size is deceptive: fourteen poems in thirty-seven pages might seem too few to make a book. But these poems are remarkably large, both literally and figuratively. They are written in very long lines, like certain poems of Whitman or the recent poems of William Jay Smith. But the resemblance to other poems is almost purely typographical. Fresh technique is here applied to a difficult problem: How far can poetry be pushed in the direction of meditative and narrative prose, and still retain the compression, the intensity, and the rhythms of poetry? It is not merely that the lines are long and that the tone is discursive; the problem is made more difficult by the nature of the ideas that inform the poems. Williams is fiercely and blatantly concerned with the abstract themes of good, evil, love, death, and so on. This does not in itself make him unique among poets, of course, but among poets of the last several decades, he is almost unique in his success with poems heavily laden with the names of abstract ideas.
“Go in fear of abstractions,” Pound said, and poets have almost universally taken that advice in the past sixty years. Richard Wilbur...
(The entire section is 2214 words.)
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