Modern and Contemporary American Poetry: Catching Up at 3AM

Waking at 3am on Saturday and finding myself unable to get back to sleep, I came downstairs in my pyjamas, made a cup of tea and plugged into the final readings for Week 3 of ModPo.  I love this course!

Hilda Doolittle (known as H.D.), Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams were the poets we ModPo students studied last week.  In addition, via video links, we viewed two pieces of visual art by Marcel Duchamp and watched Al Filreis and his team discussing their significance in relation to the Imagist and Modernist movements.

A discussion I particularly enjoyed was about Williams’ 1923 poem The Red Wheelbarrow (see below) and Duchamp’s  1917 ‘sculpture’ Fountain.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Professor Filreis asked “What do you say to the doubters, sceptics and grumps” who question the artistic value of these pieces, in a way that they would never question, for example,  Hamlet or The Charge of the Light Brigade or more traditional visual art.  This scepticism, Filreis continued, is at the nub of Modernism.  Duchamp and Williams, in privileging everyday objects by exhibiting them, or making them the subject of a poem, provoke debate, grumpy or otherwise,  in the reader or gallery visitor.   We engage self-consciously and questioningly with the text or the exhibit, rather than passively observing them, evidencing the Manifesto of Modernism to “Make it New”.

Almost one hundred years later, the debate continues, the scepticism remains, as anyone who’s ever heard “But how can it be a poem if it doesn’t rhyme/have regular stanzas/use iambic pentameter?” knows too well.  Full of such thoughts, as well as two cups of tea, still in my pyjamas, the clock approaching 7am, my husband heading out for his run, my teenage children still asleep, I felt some of the excitement I’d experienced reading Emily Dickinson’s I Dwell in Possibility; ModPo is a wonderful reminder of the potential of poetry.

This week: Gertrude Stein.

3 comments

  1. Interesting discussion! I have to say I don’t much like that poem. But I do recognise the value of pushing the boundaries of any art form. If that poem helped open the doors for other people to do experimental things with poetry, then I’m all for it, even if this particular one doesn’t float my boat.

  2. Thanks for commenting Andrew. I agree with you although I love the simplicity of the language of this poem and it was quite radical for 1923!

  3. [...] Modern and Contemporary American Poetry: Catching Up at 3AM (josephinecorcoran.wordpress.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in January 2012 challenge, Poetry, Workshops and tagged Al Filreis, Allen Ginsberg, Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven, Carol A. Stephen, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, John Peale Bishop, Kelly Writers House, Marcel Duchamp, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, No-Comfort Zone, Quillfyre, Tristan Tzara, UPenn, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams by quillfyre. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

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