Capturing the Heartbeat of America
By Tim Hazell
American physician, poet, and author William Carlos Williams created work infused with America’s sensibility, dialects, and rhythms. More than any other bard since Walt Whitman, Williams sought to represent an entire nation’s urban vitality, influences of its multiracial groups streaming into a land of plenty, the violence that permeated American society, and the natural exuberance of its people. As a doctor, he delivered babies and attended to necessities of families who were often unable to remunerate him fully. William`s affinity for and empathy with the struggling lower classes was never condescending.
Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1883, Williams made the decision to combine medical science with the arts during his formative years at Horace Mann High School. He lived at a time of new and powerful currents in American literature. While at university, he met Ezra Pound, who became a friend and influence. Unlike Pound, Williams was intent upon evolving a style of poetry, novels, essays, and plays using a distinctly American approach to meter, choosing his themes from everyday lives of people in the factories and streets. He studied advanced pediatrics in Germany and traveled in the Netherlands, returning to his native town of Rutherford to set up a private practice. The following verse alludes to a timeless Greek myth while introducing references from the American countryside in a unique way.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was awake
the edge of the sea concerned
with itself sweating in the sun
that melted the wings’ wax
off the coast there was
a splash quite unnoticed
—From Collected Poems: 1939-1962
Williams’ reputation as a writer spread after his first London publication, arranged by Pound in 1913. The recognition that followed established his career and was to affect younger poets of the 50s and 60s. Major works include Spring and All (1923), Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) and the five-volume epic Paterson (1963). Williams suffered a debilitating heart attack in 1948. However, his output continued unabated until his death in New Jersey in 1963.
Here is one of America’s favorite, sophisticated “finger-food” recipes.
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp
2 lbs. jumbo shrimp, unpeeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 5 limes
1/2 bunch basil leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut down the middle of the shrimp tail shells to reveal and remove central vein. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Preheat grill. Grill about 2 to 3 minutes per side, until just done. Transfer to a platter. In a small mixing bowl, combine olive oil, lemon or lime juice, and basil. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the shrimp and serve immediately.