From One Old Coconut to Another
In his autobiography, Williams is generous with Pound (even though Williams’ descriptions, contrary to his assertions, give us the sense that his dear buddy Ez was a bit of a nightmare). Yet, Williams' assessment of Eliot’s The Wasteland—“the great catastrophe to our letters” (146)—is more to the general point: “There was heat in us, a core and a drive that was gathering headway upon the theme of a rediscovery of a primary impetus, the elementary principle of all art, in the local conditions. Our work staggered to a halt for a moment under the blast of Eliot’s genius which gave the poem back to the academics” (146). I would like someone to school me as to Pound’s place in this description: part of the work that staggered to a halt, or a return to the academic, Eurocentric tradition that Eliot saved from the trash heap? Perhaps both. In the Cantos, there are some interesting sea and sailing images, which I always like; spars against the vast blankness of the ocean remind us what poetry does, degree zero. Williams chooses the river, instead. And he gravitates towards the close at hand:
[T]he critics would have it that I, the poet, am not profound and go on with their profundities, sometimes affecting to write poems in their very zeal as thinkers. It all depends on what you call profound. For I acknowledge it would, in dealing with man and city, require one to go to some depth in the form for the purpose.
The thinkers, the scholars, thereupon propound questions upon the nature of verse, answering themselves or at least creating tension between thoughts. They think, and to think, they believe, is to be profound. A curious idea, if what they think is profitable to their thinking they are rewarded—as thinkers.
But who, if he chose, could not touch the bottom of thought? The poet does not, however, permit himself to go beyond the thought to be discovered in the context of that with which he is dealing: no ideas but in things. The poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity. The thought is Paterson, to be discovered there. (Autobiography of WCW 390-91)
(Pound’s pet-names for Williams: My Old Coconut, Bull, Bullll, My Dear Old Sawbukk von Grump, Ole Son, WillYam, Willyum the Wumpus.)