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William Haskins
12-27-2005, 10:05 PM
By William Carlos Williams (http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/williams/williams.htm)
(1883-1963)

Poem

As the cat
climbed over
the top of
the jamcloset
first the right
forefoot

carefully
then the hind
stepped down
into the pit of
the empty
flowerpot

oneovu
12-27-2005, 11:10 PM
This one left me cold. I would not be surprised to hear there is much more than meets the minds-eye, but I can't see it.

mkcbunny
12-27-2005, 11:21 PM
To me, this one doesn't have the multiple interpretive levels of WCW's "plum poem" [This Is Just to Say] that came up for discussion a few months ago. But, as a cat owner, I laughed each time I read it. So I gave it a 2 for the cat snapshot, but it's not doing much else for me.

Paint
12-27-2005, 11:29 PM
I gave it a two for being "cute" other than that it was rather uninspiring. (My cats are never this careful--they don't put one foot down and then the other. This guy did not own cats!)

mkcbunny
12-27-2005, 11:34 PM
I dunno. The poem didn't do that much for me, but my cat is all about slowly stepping into ridiculous situations. Sometimes he looks right at me when he does it, too.

Unique
12-28-2005, 01:09 AM
Reply

As this poem
behaves
as prose
without
the benefit
of punctuation

carefully
and then again
reread
for hidden meaning
my cat
likes it

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 02:13 AM
very interesting responses. they beg the question: what is the function of poetry?

for williams, in this case (and many others with him) it is simply to offer you a snapshot of his experience. like other imagists, williams saw the accurate conveyance of an image, one that defies paraphrase, as an end in itself.

Paint
12-28-2005, 02:37 AM
To answer your question-"What is the function of poetry?" Different people read poetry for different reasons. I read poetry to inspire creation, and provoke thought.I agree that this was written like prose without punctuation. The image did not inspire me. It did however inspire Unique to write a poem about her cat, so all is not lost.
Paint

Unique
12-28-2005, 02:49 AM
I wasn't aware poetry had a 'function'. If a poem has to have a function, that makes it rather like that frilly, crocheted potholder your Aunt Nellie gave you - it looks nice, but what the heck do you do with it?

I look for three things in a poem:

*make me think
*make me feel or
*show me how you felt when you wrote it

If any poem can do all three - then I'll give it a five.

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 02:53 AM
ah, but we're talking about cross-purposes here. you're talking about the expectation, which comes from the reader and is imposed on the poem. i'm talking about the function, which is built into the poem and flows from the writer to the reader.

no matter why one reads, when one reads a poem like this, one can find nothing but what is there. you can look for a hidden meaning, but you won't find it. you can look for metaphor, and you might find it, but it would be a connection in your own mind and would (in my opinion) lie outside of the poet's intent.

now, you might reject the image. deem it interesting or not, find it evocative or not. but your reasons for reading don't enter into what it is...

not a critique of your comment, paint... but just some general thoughts on the nexus of the author's agenda and that of the reader.

Unique
12-28-2005, 03:14 AM
As the cat climbed over the jamcloset, first the right forefoot (carefully), then the hind stepped down into the pit of the empty flowerpot.

You are correct - there is nothing hidden inside this wrapper.

But enlighten me - why is this piece called a poem? Is there some meter I'm unaware of that lends it the status of poem? If a poem is as brief as the above, what elevates it past the realm of a sentence?

scarletpeaches
12-28-2005, 03:17 AM
I'd rather gouge my own eyes out with hot teaspoons than read it again. :(

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 03:22 AM
But enlighten me - why is this piece called a poem? Is there some meter I'm unaware of that lends it the status of poem? If a poem is as brief as the above, what elevates it past the realm of a sentence?

To make two bold statements: There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant. Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matter like a ship. But poetry is a machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.



From: Williams's introduction to The Wedge, in Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams (NY: New Directions, 1969), p. 256.

trumancoyote
12-28-2005, 03:23 AM
There's something sneaky about the title, Unique.

I don't know what it is, but I think it's worth discussing.

Unique
12-28-2005, 03:28 AM
Would it be too rude to say, 'thank God the man is dead and no longer writing the abominations he calls poetry?'

Yes, it would be too rude. So I shan't say it.

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 03:30 AM
wow.

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:30 AM
I think the presentation of the words in a poem format is what makes it "a poem" rather than just a sentence.

Will, I understand what you are saying in regard to the poet's intent, but I'm not sure that it is always the case that there's nothing beyond what the artist claims. Do you mean that as it applies to the "snapshot" poets specifically, or do you mean it in a broader way, that art is only what the creator says it is?

I agree with the first one, but not the second.

trumancoyote
12-28-2005, 03:30 AM
Aw, I think he's playful.

He's not my favorite, but he's done some cool ****, Ms. Unique.

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:32 AM
There's something sneaky about the title, Unique.

I don't know what it is, but I think it's worth discussing.
And think about that. Of all the pieces he could have titled "Poem," he chose this one. [Assuming he doesn't have a hundred poemss with the same title; I don't know that many of them.]

scarletpeaches
12-28-2005, 03:35 AM
Maybe he felt the need to spell out to people what this piece of **** was meant to be? I mean, if a poem is a poem, the poet doesn't (or shouldn't) need to tell us, right? :D

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:35 AM
I'd rather gouge my own eyes out with hot teaspoons than read it again. :(
Was it really that painful? Even if you didn't like it, it was very short. I'd need something much longer and torturous to drive me to hot spoons.

scarletpeaches
12-28-2005, 03:36 AM
Lukewarm spoons, then.

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:37 AM
Maybe he felt the need to spell out to people what this piece of **** was meant to be? I mean, if a poem is a poem, the poet doesn't (or shouldn't) need to tell us, right? :D
Unless we're supposed to be having this discussion as a result.

It's may be like a conceptualist painting a big square canvas green and calling it "painting." Those who hate conceptual art say it's not art.

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 03:38 AM
I think the presentation of the words in a poem format is what makes it "a poem" rather than just a sentence.


there is a particular cadence to this, and the assonance of "top" and "closet"; the alliteration of the repeated "p"s in the last three lines... it has the qualities of a poem.



Will, I understand what you are saying in regard to the poet's intent, but I'm not sure that it is always the case that there's nothing beyond what the artist claims. Do you mean that as it applies to the "snapshot" poets specifically, or do you mean it in a broader way, that art is only what the creator says it is?

heavens no. i mean that for the imagists, as one school of poetry, the "thing" is the thing. imagism was a rejection of the sentimental quality of "genteel"/victorian poetry, and simply wanted to paint a picture with language.

there is certainly a great deal of meaning, drawn out through subtext, through metaphor and symbolism, through the evocation of emotion, in most poetry, to varying degrees of success. for the imagists, however, these things did not concern them.

Unique
12-28-2005, 03:45 AM
Aw, I think he's playful.

He's not my favorite, but he's done some cool ****, Ms. Unique.

I should hope so. It would be a tragedy to become famous for a whole body of work such as that.

What does this poem do? It says his cat walks one step a time. Huzzah! Most cats do at some point in time. If I wanted a snapshot, I'd use a camera.

This is the kind of poem I can see someone writing, showing it off at some literary function and then going home and laughing their *** off because everyone said it was so fabulous. "Remarkable, dahling - your best work"

No wonder you said poetry was dead.

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 03:47 AM
so am i to assume you don't like it?

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:50 AM
there is certainly a great deal of meaning, drawn out through subtext, through metaphor and symbolism, through the evocation of emotion, in most poetry, to varying degrees of success. for the imagists, however, these things did not concern them.
That's what I thought.

I wish I could recall a particular anecdote about a film director that relates to this. But I've forgotten the specifics. Basically, whoever it was [I want to say Ridley Scott, and the movie might have been Blade Runner], said that their film was not about some particular thing when, to most viewers, it was about that thing. Artists don't always recognize every level of what they are doing until other people analyze it. And the more complicated the piece is, the more room for unexpected or unplanned connections. So, artists who claim otherwise may still subconsciously add subtext without wanting or intending to.

Now, in a piece this simple, and following this school of thought, not likely. Just making the point that artists don't always know the full extent of what they're doing.

mkcbunny
12-28-2005, 03:56 AM
This is the kind of poem I can see someone writing, showing it off at some literary function and then going home and laughing their *** off because everyone said it was so fabulous. "Remarkable, dahling - your best work"

No wonder you said poetry was dead.

I think there are thousands of poetry-slam outbursts more grating and atrocious than this cat poem is. But then I loathe unedited emotional vomit.

Unique
12-28-2005, 04:04 AM
so am i to assume you don't like it?

I like it fine. I just don't consider it a poem. There's something about it that makes me want to shriek, 'the emperor has no clothes!'

oneovu
12-28-2005, 04:08 AM
If a poem fails to move, touch, stimulate or otherwise cleverly engage me (limited to my intellect, naturally), I search for hidden meaning, because I've obviously missed something. I guess I expect at least one of the mentioned.

Poetry's function. Well, I have no idea where to go with that, but I disagree that it is in no way tied to the expectation of the reader, unless the poet writes only for himself. I may have misunderstood what you meant.

That said, I didn't know this poet's style, or classification as it were, before reading this poem. If the meaning is simply the image, I'm sure there are many who seek out and enjoy this type of conveyance. I'm just not one of them, which I've realized through this sort of blind sampling. Thanks. :)

Perks
12-28-2005, 04:10 AM
Here's what I said in another thread a few days ago:


When I write, it's about capturing a concept or an image; crystallizing stream-of-consciousness, whether it has anything to do with me or not. Mostly not. But I never said I wasn't an odd bird.

Funny that it reminds me of this discussion of imagist poetry. I understand the concept, but this string of words doesn't appeal to me.

The poem doesn't make me angry, but as Unique said I can get resentful if I suspect I'm supposed to admire the Emperor's finery.

William Haskins
12-28-2005, 04:20 AM
well, the beautiful thing about any work that evokes a visceral reaction - whether love or hate - is that it influences you, nudges you in a new direction because you've solidified your reaction to it and that will spread to your style.

so, in that respect, this was a good thread. thanks for all the comments.

Susie
12-28-2005, 05:17 AM
Not the greatest poem I've ever read, but not the worst either. Kids might enjoy it...

kdnxdr
12-28-2005, 09:19 PM
the poetry is the motion; the inanimate becoming animate without 'real' animal. kinda like one of those cute little "flicker books" that animates and tells of an experience through a series of drawings. The intent is the animation, not the story itself that is told.

like ballet, there is a story but the story becomes secondary to the execution of the dance itself.

so, the little poem is an exercise of animation and it grabs us in our collective experience and we "see the cat" become animate through the animation but to some of us, a cat moving does not move us.

brokenfingers
12-29-2005, 05:14 PM
Again, I see prose structured in an asymmetrical/non-grammatical way.

I'm not very familiar with poetry, its history, its acknowleged greats, its mythos, its rules etc., but I wonder if the roots of the answer to your assertion that poetry is dead, lie in the poetic "movements" of these acknowledged poets and those who followed their paths.

rhymegirl
12-29-2005, 05:22 PM
I studied WCW in college and didn't like him then either. For instance, that Red Wheelbarrow poem he wrote. It was something like: "So much depends on a red wheel barrow covered in rain water beside the white chickens." That's it!!! That's a friggin' poem?????

Here's mine then: "So much depends on a laptop computer perched on my desk beside my white slippers." Da dah!!

susanabra
11-05-2007, 06:33 PM
the poetry is the motion; the inanimate becoming animate without 'real' animal. kinda like one of those cute little "flicker books" that animates and tells of an experience through a series of drawings. The intent is the animation, not the story itself that is told.

like ballet, there is a story but the story becomes secondary to the execution of the dance itself.

so, the little poem is an exercise of animation and it grabs us in our collective experience and we "see the cat" become animate through the animation but to some of us, a cat moving does not move us.

Exactly! The poem is feline motion conveyed in words. It appeals to me partly because I have often observed cats go from complete relaxation to complete, full body muscle tension in an incredibly short time and also move carefully and precisely, apparently for no reason, as described here. I find this facinating. Its not because I'm a cat person, that I like this poem so much, though.
Here is the poem, which I've always loved, with chickens and a wheelbarrow in it:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

I hate chickens and I don't find wheelbarrrows terribly inspiring, but the image he creates with very few words has been burned on my brain from the first time I read it, long before I had any idea of imagists or poetics or anything like that. To me, this is almost pure color and shape. I want to be able to do that!

ddgryphon
11-05-2007, 09:21 PM
Now you've gone and done it (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=37674).

This one is a cold dead fish in my ear--I've read poems by WCW that were okay--some were even appealing to me. In general, I don't believe I get his Aesthetic in the way many people don't get Phillip Glass. It just falls dead on my ear and doesn't move or interest me in any way. I feel uninvolved in his work. I suppose there's an argument that that is somehow the point. But I can't help question an artistic vision that seeks to remove you from the effect of the work.

Basically, I give it a 2 for cute. Apart from that it isn't unique at all, but in the end rather ordinary.

brer
11-06-2007, 01:08 AM
Yup. I'm the clown that gave it a 5 out of 5. :)

Now I don't read poetry, I'm sorta a lay person in that regard, so just letting ya know what kind of bystander ah am.

When I read the ending, I laughed.

The beginning kept my interest, of course it helps that I'm a cat person, and the ending is so true--it shows an essence of cats.

Sorry folks for the interruption, . . . and now I'll leave (and probably never again be seen in these poetry lands again, this first time is a real fluke--I accidently clicked on the wrong little thingamajig).

poetprncess
11-06-2007, 03:07 AM
I didn't read any replies so forgive me if I repeat. I gave it a 3. I liked the striking image and how the poet caught that natural, prowl like movement of a cat. I, personally am not a cat person - but reading his still shot picture through words offered not only the visualization but the characteristic of his/her movements.

What I thought lacked was something made me feel ah ha... I also felt too many 'the's were used - where as other alternatives could help to add substance to the poem itself.

Either way, it has it's pleasing points!

Liz ...

susanabra
11-06-2007, 10:06 AM
Sorry folks for the interruption, . . . and now I'll leave (and probably never again be seen in these poetry lands again, this first time is a real fluke--I accidently clicked on the wrong little thingamajig).
Try clicking on the link at the beginning of the post above. Maybe you'll get a reason to come back (or maybe you'll get scared off poetry and poets for the rest of your life).

poetinahat
11-06-2007, 10:19 AM
Thanks, Susan et al, for resurrecting this thread.

This kind of discussion has been missing here, dating from around the time I became the Poetry moderator. It's not intentional, but it's more a tip of the hat to William Haskins. There aren't two of him.

Perhaps we can elicit more of this discussion with more rate-a-poem threads. I'll get on it; please feel free to chime in.

nerds
11-06-2007, 04:38 PM
The (considerably) finer minds than mine around here will make that most interesting. I'll look forward to reading the discussions and sitting by the sidelines :popcorn: , since about all I'm qualified to say is either

Damn, that made me want to set my hair on fire and jump off a bridge

or

okthxthatwuz brilliant.

Unique
11-06-2007, 05:39 PM
I should hope so. It would be a tragedy to become famous for a whole body of work such as that.

What does this poem do? It says his cat walks one step a time. Huzzah! Most cats do at some point in time. If I wanted a snapshot, I'd use a camera.

This is the kind of poem I can see someone writing, showing it off at some literary function and then going home and laughing their *** off because everyone said it was so fabulous. "Remarkable, dahling - your best work"

No wonder you said poetry was dead.

Man. I can really be a cold blooded bitch, eh?

(I still don't like it though...)

nerds
11-06-2007, 05:47 PM
But I loved your use of the word "huzzah!" A wonderful and neglected word.

:D

dahmnait
11-06-2007, 09:58 PM
I like it fine. I just don't consider it a poem. There's something about it that makes me want to shriek, 'the emperor has no clothes!'
Couldn't have said it better...well, maybe I could have, but I don't want to.

dobiwon
11-07-2007, 12:31 AM
2 stars is the best I could do. I'm not sure if it's flawed or I am, but it was still uninspiring.

mkcbunny
11-07-2007, 12:35 AM
To me, this one doesn't have the multiple interpretive levels of WCW's "plum poem" [This Is Just to Say] that came up for discussion a few months ago. But, as a cat owner, I laughed each time I read it. So I gave it a 2 for the cat snapshot, but it's not doing much else for me.

Two years later, and I still feel the same way.

On a related note, plums and "This Is Just to Say" became a tiny point in my novel after the discussion of WCW here. I started thinking about it and realized that thematically (at least the way I read it) it tied into a character's past experience. You never know where you'll get ideas. Thanks kids.

Unique
11-07-2007, 03:06 PM
One day ... I'll feel a little more inspired and set loose the cat on WCW's chickens.

Then I'll use the wheelbarrow to haul away the carcasses.

skelly
02-25-2010, 08:07 PM
Oh, and while this is back up here, it's not about the cat. The other one's not about the wheelbarrow or the chickens, either.

Ruv Draba
02-26-2010, 12:39 AM
Thanks to William for originally posting this. Thanks to various punters for coming back to pull the bottle from the rack and sip from it every few years.

It was a '2' vote from me. The only thing I can add is that like all published fiction, a poem should invoke the reader's sympathy. My major concern was that this one didn't really bother.

poetinahat
04-30-2010, 04:17 PM
Well, on with the necromancy!


the poetry is the motion; the inanimate becoming animate without 'real' animal. kinda like one of those cute little "flicker books" that animates and tells of an experience through a series of drawings. The intent is the animation, not the story itself that is told.

like ballet, there is a story but the story becomes secondary to the execution of the dance itself.

so, the little poem is an exercise of animation and it grabs us in our collective experience and we "see the cat" become animate through the animation but to some of us, a cat moving does not move us.
Very, very well put, kid (and well noted by susanabra soon after). A most impressive post.




In general, I don't believe I get his Aesthetic in the way many people don't get Phillip Glass. It just falls dead on my ear and doesn't move or interest me in any way. I feel uninvolved in his work. I suppose there's an argument that that is somehow the point. But I can't help question an artistic vision that seeks to remove you from the effect of the work.
Also excellently written, Dirk.

And you can count me as a non-Glassophile.

I can appreciate the intent and the craft in both cases. I don't think either this poem, the Wheelbarrow poem, or Phillip Glass' music are meant to be loved. In my view, they're academic - exercises in artistic vision or technique. Interesting as signposts or artifacts, but not - in my opinion - attractive.

I'll acknowledge the intent, the vision, the skill - but I won't go back to them for pleasure.

So, 4+ for technique, 2 for spirit. (A poem would have lack coherence to get a 1 from me, I think.)

MrZiggles
08-03-2012, 08:53 AM
I just think he's poking fun at poetry snobs. No BIG feelings, no fancy language, no important topic - but it's a poem.

ryanswofford
08-09-2012, 07:00 AM
Ah, everyone's thinking too hard. Williams, like someone earlier said, wasn't trying to be profound like poets are expected to be. Can't be more obvious, can it? :D