A week ago (or was it two?) I put the wrong book in my bag as I hasty-packed up for work in the morning. Our house guest had just arrived and so my commuting things were still a bit scattered around the rest of the house to make room and though I’d been greatly enjoying the Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels, I found myself with Imaginations, the William Carlos Williams anthology, instead. Amazing how similar the books look at first glance.
In Imaginations, one finds Spring and All. This is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, one I would like to claim as having a great influence on my thinking about writing and what a book can be and what it can do. The book is in many ways incoherent: but I love it. And not only for the poems (many of WCW’s most famous poems can be found in this volume), but the prose: I’m not convinced it isn’t, taken as a whole, a work of aesthetic philosophy. And though I know I should read some of the other works in the volume — I have a hunch that The Great American Novel might be interesting for me to read at this point in my life — I can’t help but deeply enjoy reacquainting myself with Spring and All on these late, long winter lunch breaks from the bike shop.
My work — which is to say, my creative work — has been uneven the last few months. Challenging, in many ways, hitting walls without clear paths forward, while at the same time producing more work over the period of time than I have at any other comparable point in the past few years. And over break, in an effort to break up (ha) a particular rut I was feeling with a kind of prose I was doing, I started reading a poetry guide book I picked up at the Borders down the road years ago in high school, which got me reading more poems, and yes, even writing one or two, which I hadn’t done in any serious way since undergrad.
Returning to Spring and All therefore, has been something of a revelation. Because what I’m struggling with these days isn’t necessarily construction or syntax or the actual writing of the work, but rather its content. And if ‘form is merely the shape of content,’ if there is no content, why am I spending so much time worrying about form? This is not to say I have no content at all (I am being dramatic), but rather, it’s about (re)cultivating a sensibility.
For example, the last lines of poem XI (“In passing with my mind”), after describing a scene seen while driving:
Why bother where I went?
for I went spinning on the
four wheels of my car
along the wet road until
I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony
Marvelous! What drama, there, at the end! A turn, a change, an invocation — all good things a good poem will do, but I’m imagining, for my own selfish purposes, how this same sort of technique (a building up of images, finding meaning in their juxtaposition, in other words, a very modernist/post-modernist/imagistic approach to meaning) might be free-based into the work I’m trying to do in prose.
I’m realizing there isn’t enough context for the above to really be comprehensible vis a vis my work, but——
A year ago or so my dad got me a little fold-up keyboard which would be easier for me to take with me on the bike, so I could write things up on my phone, and I finally remembered to charge it up so I could work on my lunch breaks. It takes a minute to relearn any keyboard, but this will work, and has worked, and my lunch break is nearly over and so, now, a moral:
Spring and All is just really a great book, and I never ceased to be amazed at what exposure to good work might inspire.