BOOK REVIEW: Death the Barber William Carlos Williams

Death the BarberDeath the Barber by William Carlos Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 39 poems by the twentieth century poet William Carlos Williams. It’s a thin volume, and is part of Penguin’s Modern Classics — a series of short works (small short story collections, novellas, and poetry collections; all less than 100 pages) that feature writers from the past century or so. Like many, my experience with Williams didn’t extend much beyond his red wheelbarrow (not included herein) and so it was nice to get a taste of a broader range of his poems.

The poetry is free verse with experimental feel. The gathered poems are as short as a few lines and as long as two-ish pages, but most fall in the one to one-and-a-half page range. Williams was an imagist, and these poems reflect that focus on creating vivid imagery while using economy of words. While imagery is given priority, Williams doesn’t completely ignore sound, using alliteration and repetition to create interesting aural effects here and there. Nature is a common theme, but not an exclusive one in these works.

Among the more noteworthy poems are the titular poem (“Death the Barber”), “Dedication for a Plot of Ground” [an elegy to his grandmother, Emily Dickinson Wellcome (not the poet sharing the same first two names),] “Young Sycamore,” “Death,” “The Botticellian Trees,” and “The Bitter World of Spring.”

I enjoyed this little collection and that it wasn’t just greatest hits — which in Williams’ case would revolve around his famous “Red Wheelbarrow.”

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