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Acclaimed essayist and poet Wendell Berry was born and has always lived in a “provincial” part of the country without an established literary culture. In an effort to adapt his poetry to his place of Henry County, Kentucky, Berry discovered an enduringly useful example in the work of William Carlos Williams. In Williams’ commitment to his place of Rutherford, New Jersey, B Acclaimed essayist and poet Wendell Berry was born and has always lived in a “provincial” part of the country without an established literary culture. In an effort to adapt his poetry to his place of Henry County, Kentucky, Berry discovered an enduringly useful example in the work of William Carlos Williams. In Williams’ commitment to his place of Rutherford, New Jersey, Berry found an inspiration that inevitably influenced the direction of his own writing. Both men would go on to establish themselves as respected American poets, and here Berry sets forth his understanding of that evolution for Williams, who in the course of his local membership and service, became a poet indispensable to us all.


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Acclaimed essayist and poet Wendell Berry was born and has always lived in a “provincial” part of the country without an established literary culture. In an effort to adapt his poetry to his place of Henry County, Kentucky, Berry discovered an enduringly useful example in the work of William Carlos Williams. In Williams’ commitment to his place of Rutherford, New Jersey, B Acclaimed essayist and poet Wendell Berry was born and has always lived in a “provincial” part of the country without an established literary culture. In an effort to adapt his poetry to his place of Henry County, Kentucky, Berry discovered an enduringly useful example in the work of William Carlos Williams. In Williams’ commitment to his place of Rutherford, New Jersey, Berry found an inspiration that inevitably influenced the direction of his own writing. Both men would go on to establish themselves as respected American poets, and here Berry sets forth his understanding of that evolution for Williams, who in the course of his local membership and service, became a poet indispensable to us all.

48 review for The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    *****April 6, 2017***** I just found out that the library patron who recommended this book to me passed away a couple days ago. He was only 65 and was walking as he regularly did, listening to audiobooks. He and I talked often at the public library where I worked at the circulation desk for over five years. He and I had a mutual respect for each other, and I recommended books to him as well as took his recommendations. I'm sad to think that he's gone, especially because he was also an important p *****April 6, 2017***** I just found out that the library patron who recommended this book to me passed away a couple days ago. He was only 65 and was walking as he regularly did, listening to audiobooks. He and I talked often at the public library where I worked at the circulation desk for over five years. He and I had a mutual respect for each other, and I recommended books to him as well as took his recommendations. I'm sad to think that he's gone, especially because he was also an important part of my town, a civil rights lawyer who loved his hometown and made it known that he valued a place that many people criticize and complain about. Thanks, Mr. Isseks, for recommending this book to me, for respecting my views even though I'm young, a woman, and a minority, and thank you for making me smile whenever I saw you around town. You'll be missed.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah Leland

    I have a lot of thoughts about poetry and how it is generally misread and picked apart (most often in university classrooms), but I do not pretend to be an expert or the most well-read. But in this book I appreciate Berry's thoughts on WCW's poetry, and especially his reading and understanding that does not do violence to the poems. "This poem seems to me as nearly perfect as any I know. What does it "mean"? There is no explanatory construct of thought that anybody can stand beside this poem to h I have a lot of thoughts about poetry and how it is generally misread and picked apart (most often in university classrooms), but I do not pretend to be an expert or the most well-read. But in this book I appreciate Berry's thoughts on WCW's poetry, and especially his reading and understanding that does not do violence to the poems. "This poem seems to me as nearly perfect as any I know. What does it "mean"? There is no explanatory construct of thought that anybody can stand beside this poem to help "understand" it. That it cannot be explained is intrinsic to its character and quality. After you have read it, you know something beautiful and consoling that you did not know before. It means what it says. Thoreau wished to speak as 'a man in his waking moments.' When Williams wrote this poem, and many others, he was a man extraordinarily awake." (Berry, commenting on Williams' poem, "A Negro Woman")

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joel Pinckney

    More than any other book of Berry's that I have read, this book deals extensively with poetic form, admiring the poetry of William Carlos Williams in that discussion. For anyone who admires Berry's poetry, it's an interesting read, providing a lot of insight into how Berry understands poetic form, what's important to Berry in the composition of a poem, and what is most important about the poem itself. Additionally, the writing, though as close to critical literary analysis as Berry comes, is typ More than any other book of Berry's that I have read, this book deals extensively with poetic form, admiring the poetry of William Carlos Williams in that discussion. For anyone who admires Berry's poetry, it's an interesting read, providing a lot of insight into how Berry understands poetic form, what's important to Berry in the composition of a poem, and what is most important about the poem itself. Additionally, the writing, though as close to critical literary analysis as Berry comes, is typically beautiful. To give a taste of a writing, here's Berry's analysis of Williams' manifesto, "No ideas but in things": "[Williams] was accepting a limit (for himself and his own work, first of all) that would protect things from the limitlessness of abstract ideas, abstract definitions, abstract rules and cases. Things--or, by implication, persons, places, and things--properly mark the limits of ideas" (53).

  4. 5 out of 5

    Colin Buchanan

    I’m pretty new to Berry and to William Carlos Williams, but I loved this book. (Thanks to The Daily Poem podcast on the Close Reads Podcast Network! Love it!) Although, as the title suggests, it’s concerned with WCW the themes are broad and vital and compelling. Both men - Berry as protege - committed their creative, poetic, literary lives to a locality. The themes that spring from this commitment are inspiring and thought-provoking and I found they really pushed me to think through the creative I’m pretty new to Berry and to William Carlos Williams, but I loved this book. (Thanks to The Daily Poem podcast on the Close Reads Podcast Network! Love it!) Although, as the title suggests, it’s concerned with WCW the themes are broad and vital and compelling. Both men - Berry as protege - committed their creative, poetic, literary lives to a locality. The themes that spring from this commitment are inspiring and thought-provoking and I found they really pushed me to think through the creative process and in fresh ways. Berry has such a great voice. He’s reassuring, substantial, warm and honest. As a protege of Williams his that love for the man’s work and ethos propels us to consider and reflect on some really great creative matters such as inspiration, talent, imagination, industrialised creativity and realism. By touching down into WCW’s poems, Berry keeps us grounded despite the conceptual nature of some of the matters at hand. It really orbits around the commitment to writing in the place you are - Carlos’s mantra, “No ideas but in things” (being objects, places, people, habits, forests, lakes, soil, wheelbarrows…) keeps the discussion centred and grounded. I just loved the discussion, reflection and insights of this book. I’m not sure I always kept up, but I always loved being in the presence of these two poets. And, as poets (primarily) I loved the was Berry uses WCW to probe the nature of poetry and what sets it apart as unique, how it defies comprehensive analysis, how what we bring shapes a poem and the mystery of words crafted as they are by the likes of WCW. That said, there’s really helpful consideration of rhythm, beat, scansion…I learned a lot! Berry expresses his thoughts with humility and warmth which was a great help to draw me into the depth of some of the ideas. The chapters are short and the prose is beautifully crafted - a great mix of succinctness, command and economy that never seems to lose its sense of friendly imminence. I’ll never share a cuppa with Berry, but this book has been the next best thing. There has been a lot to digest in “The Poetry Of William Carlos Williams Of Rutherford”. I am just pushing my boat off from the beach on my journey into the world of Wendell Berry. And I can’t wait. (I have a book of his poetry on the way as well as a collection of his Port Williams stories.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Larry Smith

    Find and Thoughtful Writing Having read Paterson book by Williams I could not find someone to discuss it with. Then I found this fine book putting Williams, poetry, and America in perspective. Wendell is the perfect companion for this ride.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    In his essay, The Long-Legged House, first published in 1969 in a book of the same title, Wendell Berry wrote in part about the summer of 1957, when he was a new college graduate, new husband, and an aspiring poet and writer. He says, of that time, that “my problem as a writer, though I didn’t clearly know it yet, was that I had inherited a region that had as a literary tradition only the corrupt and crippling local colorism of the “Kentucky” writers. This was both a mythologizing chauvinism and In his essay, The Long-Legged House, first published in 1969 in a book of the same title, Wendell Berry wrote in part about the summer of 1957, when he was a new college graduate, new husband, and an aspiring poet and writer. He says, of that time, that “my problem as a writer, though I didn’t clearly know it yet, was that I had inherited a region that had as a literary tradition only the corrupt and crippling local colorism of the “Kentucky” writers. This was both a mythologizing chauvinism and a sort of literary imperialism, tirelessly exploiting the clichés of rural landscape, picking and singing and drinking and fighting lazy hillbillies, and Bluegrass Colonels. That is a blinding and tongue-tying inheritance for a young writer.” Writers of all stripes who go to New York or San Francisco can adopt—and have, with varying degrees of success, adopted—the “literary” language of the dominant culture. Writers who want to maintain allegiance to their region, as Berry has in Kentucky, and as Williams did in New Jersey, work—let me say struggle—to find a language that maintains its fidelity to the local culture without descending into caricature and parochialism. Confronting this “tongue-tying inheritance,” and searching for poetic voices that were both literate and true to their place, Berry had, naturally, found comfort in the writings of Thoreau and Whitman, but Thoreau’s language could hardly be called “contemporary,” and “Whitman’s great trope ‘Myself,’ was not repeatable.” But Berry discovered that William Carlos Williams was a poet “whose work I had know before, but read extensively and studiously during that summer of 1957. I had two books of his, the Collected Earlier Poems, and his newest one, Journey to Love. I saw how his poems had grown out of his life in his native city in New Jersey, and his books set me free in my own life and my own place as no other books could have. I’ll not forget the delight and hopefulness I felt in reading them… Reading them, I felt I had a predecessor, if not in Kentucky then in New Jersey, who confirmed and contemporized for me the experience of Thoreau in Concord.” Forty-two years after the publication of The Long-Legged House, Berry repaid this “delight and hopefulness,” and paid homage as well, to one of his major literary influences, by publishing The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford. It is not just a wonderful review of Williams’s life and writing, it is as good a primer on poetry—what it is, how it is made, constituent elements such as measure, rhythm, and the structure of sounds—as any I’ve read. But more, it examines the ineffable elements of poetry, such as inspiration and talent (and how Williams’s poetry embodied both), and what part of the poetic art is “learnable.” There is one chapter in particular that I want to point to—and the quotation marks are part of the title, since the words are William’s words: “No Ideas But in Things”—which makes both the book and the poetry it seeks to illumine worth reading. “Things do not merely make manifest the general names and categories by which we describe them; they also impose a discipline upon those generalities, so that the generalities do not become so general as to be unknown and unfelt in embodied particularity,” Berry says, noting that “this is the divorce Williams speak of early in Paterson: names and ideas becoming separate from the things they denote, so that ‘the language stutters.’” To take local allegiances such as the natural affection we feel for our local towns or native coutryside and turn it “into an abstract nationalism is to produce an emotion that is formless: out of control. Nationalists are people out of control. They seek, not the good of their country… but rather the dominance of an idea of patriotism in ready subservience to political abmition… Nationalists are at liberty, given sufficient power, to… countenance the destruction of innocent people and creatures, and of the world itself, for the sake of ideas.” These words, written in 2010 or 2011, ring particularly troubling today, when ideas—like “very fine people” and “antifa thugs”—are increasingly divorced from the things they discuss. It is cheering to have Williams, and by extension, Berry, held up as examples of a linguistic fidelity to people, places, and things that lies at the heart every “regional” writer, and cheering as well to have Berry’s attribution, in the form of this book, of his debt to Williams. I’ll only add that poetic structures that Williams frequently used, such as the three-part line, receive attention from Berry, and the penultimate chapter contrasting Williams with Eliot is a remarkable piece of writing. I’ll close with this, from the Mad Farmer poems, an excerpt from “Some Further Words:” Let me be plain with you, dear reader. I am an old-fashioned man. I like the world of nature despite its mortal dangers. I like the domestic world of humans, so long as it pays its debts to the natural world, and keeps its bounds. I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose is a language that can pay just thanks and honor for those gifts, a tongue set free from fashioable lies.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Rg

    Wendell Berry veers a little more left-of-center than I prefer to keep myself. Perhaps the negotiation of agricultural spaces and post-environmentalist theory ought to be among every young writer's topics of choice; but it turns out that they are not among mine. I know, I know -- Berry would say that they are human concerns, not political concerns. Back to Williams, though. After reading Berry's commentary, I came to discover that Williams was way more left-of-center than I can even appreciate. L Wendell Berry veers a little more left-of-center than I prefer to keep myself. Perhaps the negotiation of agricultural spaces and post-environmentalist theory ought to be among every young writer's topics of choice; but it turns out that they are not among mine. I know, I know -- Berry would say that they are human concerns, not political concerns. Back to Williams, though. After reading Berry's commentary, I came to discover that Williams was way more left-of-center than I can even appreciate. Latinx revolutionaries unite? Okay, but not on my watch. All in all, viewing Williams through Berry's astute aesthetic lens would be instructive to anyone exploring free verse poetry. Lord knows that Berry is a gifted poet in his own right.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    I get the sense that I would really respect Wendell Berry as a human being and environmentalist, but this book was much less exciting and revealing than I was hoping it might be. The acknowledgments at the end of the book suggest that several chapters were originally stand-alone essays in Sewanee and elsewhere, and perhaps that format would have been more kind to Berry's analysis of Williams than this long form publication of them was. Reading the book straight through made it all too clear that I get the sense that I would really respect Wendell Berry as a human being and environmentalist, but this book was much less exciting and revealing than I was hoping it might be. The acknowledgments at the end of the book suggest that several chapters were originally stand-alone essays in Sewanee and elsewhere, and perhaps that format would have been more kind to Berry's analysis of Williams than this long form publication of them was. Reading the book straight through made it all too clear that Berry's central point (that Williams values the local and connects literary imagination with the factual details of everyday life, resisting the potentially snobbish and centrifugal vision of cosmopolitan modernists like Eliot) was salient but thin. I never found more through his close readings, and there was a lot of discussion of meter and syntax that seemed very basic, perhaps because Berry was seeking to reach a popular audience, yet I don't think I would have minded an explanation of terms on a beginner's level if it had led to more exciting and nuanced insights. I echo Berry's appreciation of Williams, and I like thinking about how Williams' aesthetic responded to (and resisted in many ways) industrial development and the homogenization of culture. But I wanted to be surprised and enlightened by Berry's observations, and I wasn't.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ed Smith

    I really have enjoyed Berry's poetry but his critical literary side should be left on the farm in Kentucky. Tough critic me. Yes,I admit it but he does agree or disagree with Williams or TS EIliot in CHapter 22 "Williams and Eliot". I don't think you can enjoy both he does. My humble opinion says I dig Williams. My question is why did he write this book? He uncovered no new ground except comparing Williams to some New Age scientists whose references did not impress me about farming. "Hayden Carruth, I really have enjoyed Berry's poetry but his critical literary side should be left on the farm in Kentucky. Tough critic me. Yes,I admit it but he does agree or disagree with Williams or TS EIliot in CHapter 22 "Williams and Eliot". I don't think you can enjoy both he does. My humble opinion says I dig Williams. My question is why did he write this book? He uncovered no new ground except comparing Williams to some New Age scientists whose references did not impress me about farming. "Hayden Carruth, who, I am sad to say, will not read it,not in this world anyhow, etc." Berry says this in the first line on the last page of this book. Maybe he should of read my article in Big Scream 23, 1986 and see what Williams was all about in Rutherford or see my poem "morning cracks" next to Williams Red Wheelbarrow in Penn Station,NYC. Maybe Berry should see the Paterson Falls, Williams house and I am willingly give to give him a tour along with Mr. Jim Klein of the Red Wheelbarrow Magazine housed in the Rutherford Library will give MR. Berry a tour of North Jersey. We are tough here in Jersey and we will defend Williams. adios from Garret Mountain, Ed Smith

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    As a schmuck that has been keeping journals and writing half-songs for about 27 years now, I sometimes have feelings of regret that I haven't made anything substantial of the words. I have had a few first-person editorial ramblings published here and there and the 'zine that I helped to start did end up in a museum show once. I made a lot of good friends through writing during the blog craze of the early aughts. But the half-songs bug me. Berry's description of the process by which Williams worke As a schmuck that has been keeping journals and writing half-songs for about 27 years now, I sometimes have feelings of regret that I haven't made anything substantial of the words. I have had a few first-person editorial ramblings published here and there and the 'zine that I helped to start did end up in a museum show once. I made a lot of good friends through writing during the blog craze of the early aughts. But the half-songs bug me. Berry's description of the process by which Williams worked over the years to "try to find a credible language with which to speak of the life around him," calms me. As I watch the young folks scream into society with such self-assurance, I think of my elders and the value that they placed on a word. It's congruent with my affinity for the distiller. The half-songs are everclear, not fit for serving. All spirit, they thirst for branch water. We are reminded of Whitman, picking apart and revising for each edition, but always more of a sloshy kegmaster soaking pages with ink like yeasty foam. For now, I will let them age a bit longer. But I have a feeling that some of those songs are getting close to just right.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dave McNeely

    Berry's reflections and analysis of the "project" of poet/doctor William Carlos Williams at times seem disjoined, almost a series of essays loosely strung together. Berry at times apologizes for as much, repeatedly noting the areas of William's writing life that he himself has failed to grasp (e.g. "the variable foot"). Nevertheless, it's fun to watch Berry's thoughts emerge as though in progress and it's both delightful and insightful to ruminate with Berry on Williams' local grounding and how Berry's reflections and analysis of the "project" of poet/doctor William Carlos Williams at times seem disjoined, almost a series of essays loosely strung together. Berry at times apologizes for as much, repeatedly noting the areas of William's writing life that he himself has failed to grasp (e.g. "the variable foot"). Nevertheless, it's fun to watch Berry's thoughts emerge as though in progress and it's both delightful and insightful to ruminate with Berry on Williams' local grounding and how such a foundation has equally, if not more, shaped Berry's life and work. Ultimately, in reading Berry ponder Williams, you feel as though you're eavesdropping on Berry's own self-reflections - and that alone makes this book worthwhile. On somewhat of a sidenote, I can imagine this book serving as a rather useful introduction to writing poetry, particularly as it places important on the "place" of the author as both its grounding and enlivening force, something that many young poets would do well to contemplate.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I picked up this book only because I like everything I've ever read by Wendell Berry. I knew nothing about William Carlos Williams, and I've retained very little of the information I ever learned about poetry in general. Berry had me hooked after the first chapter, though, so I pushed through to the end and read the book in a few sittings. I'm not sure how to evaluate the poetry discussion in the book, and admittedly, I didn't try to understand the "technical" aspects completely. There was so mu I picked up this book only because I like everything I've ever read by Wendell Berry. I knew nothing about William Carlos Williams, and I've retained very little of the information I ever learned about poetry in general. Berry had me hooked after the first chapter, though, so I pushed through to the end and read the book in a few sittings. I'm not sure how to evaluate the poetry discussion in the book, and admittedly, I didn't try to understand the "technical" aspects completely. There was so much to learn from and consider in this book, though, and I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the time I finished. I'll be chewing on Berry's treatment of the imagination and the eternal in poetry and art for quite a while. I had to go immediately and read "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot when I was finished, and then I went back and re-read the chapter comparing and contrasting Williams and Eliot. Definitely a worthwhile read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Duff

    I gained a greater appreciation of Berry, not just as a poet, but as someone who thinks very seriously about why it is important to have poetry and what his role must be in the broad scope of humane letters. I learned less about Williams than I did about Berry. Not why I went to the book, but a fine, fine reward. I do have to disagree with some of the reviews--I did not find this a shallow work in any way.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jake Willems

    A good appreciation of Williams' poetry and emphasis on the importance of the local community. I appreciated the many quotations and excerpts. A good appreciation of Williams' poetry and emphasis on the importance of the local community. I appreciated the many quotations and excerpts.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Wilson

    Really neat to read a modern poet's thoughts on one of the greats. Really neat to read a modern poet's thoughts on one of the greats.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Wendell Berry on William Carlos WILLIAMS, the American poet. Not only is this book an explanation of Williams's poetry, but also a careful reflection upon the nature of poetry itself. Wendell Berry on William Carlos WILLIAMS, the American poet. Not only is this book an explanation of Williams's poetry, but also a careful reflection upon the nature of poetry itself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I understand what's he is saying. Just not that into it at the moment. All poetics is local is the argument. Sort of. I understand what's he is saying. Just not that into it at the moment. All poetics is local is the argument. Sort of.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Warren

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  21. 4 out of 5

    David

  22. 4 out of 5

    Judy

  23. 5 out of 5

    John

  24. 5 out of 5

    David Kern

  25. 4 out of 5

    stephanie cassidy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Coatney

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

  28. 5 out of 5

    Arun Croll

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick D'amore

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  31. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  32. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  33. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Coyne

  34. 5 out of 5

    Molly

  35. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

  36. 5 out of 5

    Catharine Wall

  37. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Palevski

  38. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Manor

  39. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  40. 5 out of 5

    Brook

  41. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

  42. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  43. 5 out of 5

    LCSC Library

  44. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

  45. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Conroy

  46. 4 out of 5

    Lilia

  47. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

  48. 4 out of 5

    W.

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