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American poetry of the nineteenth century was, in style, verse form, and subject matter, basically an import from England and the rest of Europe—until Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, there was no distinctly American poetry style, and most of the modern voices of the early 20th century, expatriots such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, were concentrating on European motifs, despite their innovative voices. William Carlos William, on the other hand, a doctor by profession, sought to invent a new, “American” voice; his imagism took the form of short, abbreviated lines, whose patterns seemed arbitrary at first, but after closer examination, provided his poems with an energetic, active rhythm, tried to find a metrical equivalent to the energy and dynamicism of a growing America, still exploring its identity in a rapidly industrializing global society. The content of Williams’ verses, too, were distinctly American and urban in their imagery—his Magnum Opus, Paterson, was a full-length portrait of that, or any, American city, letting the free enterprise system trump any considerations about Nature or grace. He used American idioms (“I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox”) and brought into focus the American way of life, both rural and urban(his “Red Wheelbarrow” poem is the most readily available example). When Williams described his landscapes, they were immediately recognizable as American locales—the farm scenes could be found anywhere in the U.S., and the pavement, even the dirt roads were distinctly American. Whether Williams actually succeeded in giving voice to an American poetic style is open to conjecture, but his concentration, his determinism to do so cannot be doubted.
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