BOOK REVIEW: Sour Grapes by William Carlos Williams

Sour Grapes: A Book of PoemsSour Grapes: A Book of Poems by William Carlos Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This 1921 poetry collection is Williams’ fourth, coming out early in his career — shortly before his most well-known poem (“The Red Wheelbarrow” (1923)) and long before his most acclaimed collections — Paterson [National Book Award in 1949] and Pictures from Brueghel (1962) [Pulitzer, 1963.] Williams was a full-time physician, and in this part of his career composing poems would have been a secondary pursuit. The 50-some poems of the collection are mostly free-verse imagist poems. The experimental and improvisational nature of the included poems has been both criticized and lauded.

As I mentioned, imagism is the primary approach in this collection, focusing on vivid descriptiveness — particularly in the visual sense. The subject matter is largely natural, but it does include a not inconsequential venture into human activity. A recurring theme in the collection is seasonality. [While these poems aren’t haiku, haiku readers will recognize the importance of seasons in that form.] That’s not the only connection to the Japanese style. Much of William’s work features economy, a fundamental trait in haiku. Few of these poems have the verbal terseness of haiku (i.e. that few words) but they share that form’s austerity of meaning (i.e. sticking to description and not getting involved in analysis or judgement.)

I enjoyed this collection. It might not be William’s most polished work, but that doesn’t necessarily make it undeserving of reflection.

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