Lake Effect, Spring 2018, Volume 22: "You Moderns"

“You Moderns!”:

William Carlos Williams Comes to Washington, D.C. to Deliver Spring and All As a Monologue / Manifesto to a Group That Doesn’t Believe it’s 1923

by John Bradley


Every American is in a sense an inventor.
Isamu Noguchi


  • Confront the Audience: Starting on page one. What do they (that’s you, dear reader) mean when they say, “I do not like your poems . . . There is nothing appealing in what you say but on the contrary the poems are positively repellant. They are heartless, cruel, they make fun of humanity. What in God’s name do you mean? . . . Is this what you call poetry? It is the very antithesis of poetry. It is antipoetry.”   (Notice  I said this long before Nicanor “The Parrot” Parra, who stole my anti-term.) “You Moderns!” they say. “It is the death of poetry that you are accomplishing
  • Confront the Audience: Give them no table of contents. No titles. All the world was going crazy: about typographical form” so why not make a travesty of the idea, with Roman numerals and Arabic numbers used out of order. Give them “Chapter XIII” upside-down.
  • So Much Depends Upon the Imagination: To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we alone live there is but a single force—the imagination. This is its book. I myself invite you to read and to see. Read what you see.
  • Make a Hybrid Book No One Will Ever Read. Use your prose to bedazzle, befuddle, accuse, improvise, confuse, etc. Of the 93 pages, make 44 dense prose. Use the poems (27 of them) to confuse and further complicate the prose, which laps against the poems, stern to bow. Don’t let the first poem appear until page 11. And don’t use punctuation—not even end punctuation—in any of the damn poems.
  • Confront the Audience. I love my fellow creature. Jesus how I love him . . . but he doesn’t exist! Neither does she. I do, in a bastardly sort of way.
  • Speak “Plain American.”    If you mean “stuff,” then in your poem say: “stuff.” But don’t  be  afraid of “dovetame” or “flamegreen.”  Or even “thither.”
  • Be Inclusive: “I”—a doctor who lives in Ruther- ford, NJ, typing madly at night in his attic—equals “You” —a doctor who lives in Rutherford, NJ, typ-ing madly at night in his attic.