Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A House Call Brings Two Worlds Together

A colleague, Bill Seaburg, handed me a copy of House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD without much explanation. The black and white photo on the cover (and those within) gave it the aura of an old book, as did the map of New Jersey and environs in the inside covers (no routes 78, 80, 95; airports signified by a propeller plane icon.) As one pages through, however, various anachronisms emerge: a car’s aluminum sunshade (on a blob-shaped hatchback); satellite dishes sprouting like mushrooms from siding; signs for free cellphones, pawning playstations. The back of a Tastykake van may give us the sense of old times and regional snacks, but the Butterscotch Krimpet on it can only be a product of computer design (in the foreground, a sign for “Official New Jersey Inspection Center,” hanging by two chains, is evidence of the more hand-painted artistry in past signs.) The authors have decided to hide the copyright info on the final pages (2008!), leading me to believe that this confusion was intended. Also hidden in the back is a note on the method, which is psychogeographical in spirit. The writers acquired records of addresses to which Williams made housecalls, and then took pictures of what they found there. So the gap between these two worlds, between what Williams must have seen when approaching each house and the site as it stands now, is as much the subject of this thin book, as are the poems and reflections that make up what at first seems just a simple tribute to Williams as doctor, poet, and Patersonian. Yes, Patersonian, because one of the things the book also makes clear is how much footwork this Rutherford doctor DID do in Paterson, at all hours. So hopefully, this quiet psychogeographic research project can heap a little of the deserved shame on the current citizens of Paterson who refuse to accept Williams as one of their own, even as he worked its inner chambers and touched "the secret of that form/interknit with the unfathomable ground/where we walk daily and from which/among the rest you have sprung/and opened flower-like to my hand."

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