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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BOOK REVIEW: In the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson

In the Dark, Soft EarthIn the Dark, Soft Earth by Frank Watson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Watson’s collection seizes one’s senses. Much of the poetry takes an imagist approach, using free verse poems with spare language to generate vivid, concrete images in the mind. That said, there are a number of poetic styles that appear throughout, including: haiku, tanka, sonnets (in Book X), and various lyrical variations. While natural imagery features prominently, there’s also surrealist, ethereal visuals in play as well.

The poems are arranged into ten sections, and while each book has an overarching theme there are themes that seem to cut across books. The titular notion of something buried is one of these. Another such concept is the journey.

The second section generates an expansive feeling of space as well as time. Book III intrigued me as it focused on organization, assembly, and the creation of something out of pieces and parts – which created a unique feel. Books IV and V shifted focus to hearing rather than seeing, though it largely did so by invoking the action of music creation and dance.

The book presents paintings from the fifteenth century through to the present-day throughout the book. Many of these artworks begin various sections of the collection and give one a flash of insight into the theme that will play out through that section. However, there are numerous poems that are presented as homages to paintings – notably, the whole of book VIII is poems based on tarot card imagery and subject matter.

While the majority of the paintings referenced have Western origins, one also sees Eastern influences at various points in the collection – both in the poems and in some of the paintings. Asian influences are most explicitly experienced in Book IX, which features several poems of Chinese or Japanese inspiration. The last section presents a few sonnets amid free verse poems.

I enjoyed this collection and would highly recommend it for poetry readers or those who love the visual arts, particularly those curious to see how a poet creates another dimension of experience in the realm of visceral sensation.

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