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Monday, 11 April 2011

William Carlos Williams: The Pure Products of America


Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia): photo by Adamantios, 2007

The pure products of America
go crazy --
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure --

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum --
which they cannot express --

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
agent --
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs --

some doctor's family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us --
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Hotshot Eastbound, Iaeger, West Virginia: photo by O. Winston Link, 2 August 1956 (image by Tillman, 2 March 2011)

William Carlos Williams:
To Elsie ("The pure products of America"), from Spring and All (1923)




Great photos to go w/ great poem -- "mountain folk from Kentucky" has never been made so 'present' as the (possibly) actual people in Elsie's past . . . .


pink orange line of cloud above shadowed
ridge, red-tailed hawk calling on branch
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

an absence we call the past,
at most no more than

experience, two-dimensional
limits, which follow

sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
sunlit white cloud to the left of point

TC said...


This fits, almost like a glove:

an absence we call the past,
at most no more than

experience, two-dimensional
limits, which follow




Yes, I noticed -- the pure chance synchronicity of our parallel universes. . . .

TC said...

This must be Love.

As lines...oblique may well
Themselves in every angle greet;
But ours so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Came to this immediately after reading Whitman w/lunch and struck immediately by the remarkable similarities and likewise huge differences - there is that American-ness Whitman so boldly captured - men without shirts kicking carburetors, amazing images! - secreted in that secret rhythm of Williams is Whitman ... thinking of what I just read, I am the poet of wickedness as much as I am the poet or goodness -

its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity

The photographs almost painful in their stunning clarity and Williams, never better.


lluvia said...

wonderful photos!!

ACravan said...

This is so powerful I will be with it for a while. It's funny what the mind first fixes on. For me, it's:

the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

rather than, for instance, the Kentucky reference (supported by the images), because the New Jersey identification really captures something true about a place I'm familiar with but never thought about in quite that way.

The pictures are all wonderful but I really love the goldenrod. First, because it's so beautiful and second because it, like the New Jersey reference, reminds me of things from my own experience -- in this case reading the annual New York Times "the goldenrod is in bloom" spring announcement on the editorial page. I don't know whether they run that kind of piece any longer, but I used to enjoy them because you could sort of set your watch by their arrival, like annual cooking section items.

That girl on the car hood is really evocative. Curtis

TC said...

Wickedness and goodness, goldenrod and men without shirts kicking carburetors, images sinking us into the muddy junkyard roots of

an absence we call the past,

and reminding us that even though our lives are

at most no more than


still experience is perhaps not so


after all...

because out there beyond the narrow selfish

limits, which follow

us wherever we go, there is always that something else, the moment expanding into

the (possibly) actual

where the parallel lives (lines) DO somehow amazingly sometimes converge, even meet and greet --

because we are made of blood and dirt and organs, not geometry, after all

Elmo St. Rose said...

wonderful explications

and the pure products
of America are all around
the unexpected
often found

Whitman's I see

TC said...

Yes, the pure products, they do keep cropping up, somehow, and the most beautiful flowers always seem to be the ones disguised as weeds.

Rank, raw, uncontainable, not be controlled or categorized, the shambling, shiftless, endlessly surprising manifestations of the real.

In which rest, maybe, all the hope that's left.