Something Urgent I Have to Say to You: The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams
By Herbert Leibowitz
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 528 pages, $40.00
William Carlos Williams was a second-rate poet. Was.
These days, of course, he’s a towering figure of American modernism, the heir to Walt Whitman, the godfather of myriad schools of poetry, including the Beats, Black Mountain poets, confessional poets, esoteric poets and language poets. At the end of his long life, young poets made pilgrimages to see the Sage of Rutherford, N.J.
But in the beginning, he was considered a dabbler and dilettante compared to glamorous contemporaries like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. While Pound was seen as an autodidact (he taught himself nine languages) and defender of civilization against the “barbarism” of the masses, Williams was seen as a part-time backwater scribe obsessed with capturing the chaos of the American experience.