William Carlos Williams: An Introduction.
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The Poems


Uniquely among the major modernists William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) exhibited a dedication "to a form of American exceptionalism in art and politics [and to a] political-aesthetic agenda which did not fall along conventionally marked lines" (Johnson 181). This "American exceptionalism" was evinced in part by Williams's formulation of the "American Idiom" expressed in his distinctive "three step line," the long line broken into three sections and stepping down across the page.

However, Williams, whose career as a doctor coincided with his poetic endeavors, had not yet fully developed this style in the 1930s. He was, nonetheless, producing a wide array of lyric verse, using the American speech patterns from which he would develop the line. Williams also began work on what would eventually become his five-part epic, Paterson.

Much of Williams's poetry in the decade concerns the tribulations of the victims of the Depression. Poems such as "The Sun Bathers" present everyday people, "a tramp," "a young man begrimed," and a "fat negress." The poem marks the date as "Nov. 1, 1933," establishing the historical context in which these people are "sunbathers". At the same time, by labeling what they are doing "sunbathing" rather than "panhandling" or "lounging" or some such, Williams grants them an unexpected dignity. They are given the mantle of leisure and repose rather being labelled as degenerate or pathetic.

In "Proletarian Portrait," this same dignity is generated by Williams's distinctive voice. The steady, consistent recitation in each line of description in the enumeration of the parts of the woman addresses that which could, again, be pathologized or mocked with, instead, a grace, a nobility.

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