A New Williams-Machine
To make things clear, I have no undue veneration for William Carlos Williams. I approach his work as I would a lucky find on a street vender’s blanket, as something at hand. “We are all handymen: each with his little machines,” say Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, and I guess to get out of the who-influenced-who, who-studied-with-who, who-slept-with-who Oedipal traps of poetry, one must make Williams-machines and Paterson-machines when one can, if one wants. That said, PENNsound just has posted over a gigabyte with the voice of the man himself. What of it then? Merely cause for creation of some William Burroughs Williams cut-ups? Listening to the recordings, most of surprisingly high quality, the readings of his poems seem to me less interesting than his clear, forceful promoting of the difficult ideas behind them (especially in conversation with the likes of Mary Margaret McBride—a 1950s Oprahesque broadcaster, who I have been curious to hear for a while). Some highlights include a soniferous version of “Paterson: The Falls” which I have never seen in print (recording #2); readings of long passages from Paterson (recording #3); and a morning address at Hanover College in which he talks passionately about outmoded verse, accompanied by a pleasing faint whistle of feedback (recording #16).
The only criticism of this addition to PENNsound is that I’d prefer more random access to the data; in fact, PENNsound goes against a point in its own manifesto: “it must be singles.” The content is too overwhelming and sometimes repetitive (note: I won’t eat your plums, if you just put that wheelbarrow away). These very large files need to be chopped up more, or at least the files need to be equipped with better metadata. I downloaded most of the files so that I could listen in my car, but the mp3 names of the files proved useless for navigation. The only way I could slog through it with any kind of direction was to have the site popped up on my computer at home while playing the files.
In the end, I found his voice sweeter than expected. It gave me no clue, however, into the way he’s organized his lines in Paterson. (Which makes me a little less self-conscious about the fact that Blogger abuts all his lines against a single indentation, regardless of my tabbing.) Interestingly enough, when reading Paterson, he skips over the archival passages, which are undoubtedly his most interesting innovation.
Let the remixing begin.
[Dec. 18, 2007 note: since this post, PennSound has divided up the Williams audio files into more manageable "singles."]