The Ethics of William Carlos Williams's Poetry

November 2010
2 black and white illustrations
180 pages
9x6 in
Studies in American Literature and Culture
ISBN: 9781571134813
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
Camden House
BISAC LIT004020, LIT014000

The Ethics of William Carlos Williams's Poetry

Ian D. Copestake

The poet as an inheritor of an Emersonian tradition, and Paterson as an ethical autobiography in progress.
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is the most influential figure in the development of American poetry in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. His simple language and focus on the familiar objects and voices of everyday life pulled poetry out of the past and restored its ability to express contemporary experience. Williams believed passionately in poetry's usefulness, abhorring its perception as an esoteric pursuit and insisting on the impact it could have on the life of a reader if only made relevant to his or her experience. Examining the sources of this belief, Ian Copestake breaks new ground by tracing the enduring impact of Williams's youthful experience of Unitarianism on his poetry and arguing that Williams is a poet in an Emersonian tradition.
Two chapters focus on Williams's long poem Paterson, arguing that its long gestation -- from 1927 to 1951 -- reflects its role as an ethical autobiography in progress. Copestake investigates sources that point to the ethical heart of Williams's poetry and to his lifelong belief that "It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there."

Ian D. Copestake is a Lecturer at the University of Bamberg, Germany and editor of the William Carlos Williams Review.

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Mixing biography (with a light dose of psychology), historical contextualisation and careful, evocative close readings, Copestake traces the lineages of Williams's iconoclasm, his empathic imagination and his belief in the affordances of poetry. . . . [T]he utility of poetry is a central ethical concern for Copestake; indeed, he bookends his study with versions of the question, can poetry matter? and looks to Williams to help us answer, yes. ENGLISH STUDIES

What emerges from Copestake's treatment of Williams is a man of honest and dedicated ambition, a poet continually struggling to find an appropriate form and structure for his poetic voice. . . Over five thematized chapters, moving between intellectual context and textual analysis, the manifold complexities of Williams's intellectual and poetic legacy are given due attentiveness and care. This careful handling of the central subject, together with the directness of Copestake's approach . . . offers a refreshing contribution to Williams studies, and to the broader scholarship of poetic modernism. JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES

Copestake's monograph on William Carlos Williams's poetry offers a well-informed and well-documented insight into the connection between Williams's writing with Unitarianism and Emersonian thinking. . . At the end of this study, one comes to appreciate the sense of commitment and creativity that characterizes Williams's work, making him both a man and a poet of his time. . . This is a study that will appeal to scholars, students and the general public. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES

[A] well-informed and accessibly written study [that] adds an important and generally neglected facet to Williams's reception by drawing attention to the impact of the poet's Unitarian background on his writing. . . . Readers will always have sensed a notion of moral commitment underlying Williams's work. It is Copestake's merit to have traced some of the substantial roots of this commitment. ZEITSCHRIFT FÜR ANGLISTIK UND AMERIKANISTIK

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