Spatial Rhythm and Poetic Invention in William Carlos Williams' Sunday in the Park

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William Carlos Williams was fascinated by the ways in which living organisms and inert matter occupy space--how they move in it, or cannot move, are cramped or allowed to roam freely--and how the space inside organisms and matter is charted, perceived, and manipulated. Williams's preoccupation with actual space in the material world is paralleled by his formal experimentations with the placement of words on the page. "Without invention nothing is well spaced" (P 50), Williams writes at the beginning of "Sunday in the Park," raising the question, what does "well spaced" mean for Williams? How can the world and how can poetry be well spaced? The aim of this paper is to look at the relationship between Williams's use of what I will call spatial rhythms and the vision of poetry that emerges in "Sunday in the Park"--a section of Paterson particularly important for thinking about Williams's late poetic style because it contains the famous section beginning "The descent beckons / as the ascent beckoned," marking Williams's invention of the triadic stanza with "variable foot," a form he would begin to use frequently in the 1950's. My hope is to offer a new perspective on Williams's poetics by showing how it is rooted in a conception of space, both external and internal or biological, that is constantly moving in a rhythmic fashion.

Although William Carlos Williams's epic poem, Paterson, is about the city of Paterson and a man, also named Paterson, who is that city, the actual physical space of that city tends to be elusive throughout the poem, becoming most concrete in the second Book, "Sunday in the Park," which, however, does not deal with the city itself, but with the park above it. The park is both a part of the city of Paterson (...

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...s: A New World Naked (McGraw-Hill, 1981), 462-63 and 466-67.[Hit the "back" button on the upper left hand corner of your browser to return to the text]

4. Mariani, 462-63.[Hit the "back" button on the upper left hand corner of your browser to return to the text]

5. Kenneth Burke, "The Thinking of the Body" in Language as Symbolic Action (Berkeley: U of California P, 1966), 340-41.[Hit the "back" button on the upper left hand corner of your browser to return to the text]

6. The last two descending sequences I have quoted ‹ the first beginning with "She was married with empty words" and the second with "The descent beckons" ‹ are also reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending Staircase." On Williams's interest in cubism and in Duchamp in particular, see Reed Whittemore, William Carlos Williams: Poet from Jersey (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), 113-124.

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