from “America, Whitman, and the Art of Poetry, by William Carlos Williams

   . . .  What is being done? There are magazines and books of verse to be studied: I speak of course of the surface only – Rhythmus – and all such bunk-be damned eternally. There is only poetry. Either it is good art or bad art. Why make subdivisions that have only partial and superficial significances? It simply distracts from the truth. It is like saying the musical scale is divided into high notes and low notes. Has a work a unity of form? Is it in conformity with the content? Has it been skillfully handled? That is all that need be asked about the form of a poem. Slow or swift, high or low, what has that to do with the structure? 

What is unity of form? If I knew –! It is better than pretty rhymes. But it may be pretty rhymes. Forms are of course of greater or lesser significance. It is only with the deeper, more inclusive forms that a person of any seriousness needs concern himself. There are of course the periodicals. Contemporary Verse is a discreet protest against too much liberty. Imagine too much liberty! Where is there more liberty that I may go and get a bucketful of it? If they mean that in running loose one runs amuck-why what will I care for fools. But if by “too much freedom” they mean that a man binds himself by ignoring the truths that he cannot escape, no matter how hard he may run, then I will listen. But in that case why sit in a coffin and have one’s friends screw the lid down! Why write sonnets? Brguh! 

Poetry is a good packhorse. It is so amiable that it has made amiability almost a virtue.

The Soil makes a peculiar mistake in imagining that a mere ability to live well is art. J. P. Morgan was not an artist. Neither was Wm. Cody. Merely by adjusting one’s life delicately to a single distinguished purpose does not make one an artist as Pietro de Medici should disclose. Great men feel the lack of artists; that is why they draw them about themselves. It is all very democratic, all very decorative, this apotheosis of trust magnates and trip hammers and Jack Johnsons. I like it. I think it makes a fine lively magazine. But mere adjustment of mechanical parts to a purpose-what shall I say? I don’t know. Perhaps I am wrong. After all I am speaking of poetry, not mechanics, and

I do not like the poetry that is published in The Soil. It is not given a proper frame. It is trivial. It is sometimes good but it is always handled in the same manner. There is no discrimination.

Such things as The Blind Man are very useful, very “purgative,” very nice decoration, even very true. It sponsors an art rather glad to be in a state of decay. It is rather naive, I think. It prefers not to know when it is imitating the Chinese or the late French. It likes to reach out of the cabinet and grab whatever it touches and to imagine it has hit upon a new thing. In the dark all is in transition. It must be, for when nothing exists all must be changing from one thing to another. What else can there be? Oh, Chaos! Oh yes, but chaos is somewhat overdone. Du Champs’ “chocolate grinder” is good stuff for a print. Brown has cleverly likened cocotte’s eyes to oysters. Demuth likes to walk down corridors, peeping into other people’s rooms but – ici il n’y a pas grand chose.

Ah, but Others, the magazine with which I am connected, is of course excellent. Here we have an attempt to present a blank page to Tom, Dick and Harry with the invitation to write a masterpiece upon it If Others came out once or twice every three years and consisted of four pages it would be the ideal magazine for poets. It is at least naked. “But the rain it raineth every day.”

The Bookman and the Yale Review, etc., are nice papers with some good conventional stuff in them for high school and middle-aged readers, The Poetry Journal is Edmund Brown’s magazine. It is unfortunately connected with a commercial house and must be careful.

The Seven Arts is a brave pioneer in discretion. It prints only good new work by significant men. It is made for middle-aged, semi~brave revolutionists who have fixed their canons of taste beyond question-a commercial article for the intelligent public. Masses cares little for poetry unless it has some beer stenches upon it-but it must not be beer stench. It must be beer stench-but not beer stench, it must be an odor of hops and malt and alcohol blended to please whom it is meant to please. Oh hell! 

Then there are the coast magazines and Reedy’s Mirror. I do not see Reedy’s Mirror. And the Little Review.
Not one of all these magazines has the purpose to print only poetry and criticism of poetry plus the financial ability to thrive. One is poor, the other has wealthy guarantors to please and one is a commercial venture [sic]. Not one of them has a policy big enough to include all, nor the inclination to include all, nor the ability to carry on the work. A large, thoroughly financed magazine in which all may join and with a clear sighted tyrant for an editor. An American. Where is this fine folio – like The Soil? Where is this perfect simplicity of presentation, like Others’? Where is the financial backing, like Poetry? Where is the business-like managemen – -like The Poetry Journal? 
Then there is The Poetry Review or whatever Braithwaite’s sheet is called. But Amy Lowell appears in that – God bless her. For whom is this ideal magazine to be edited: for Amy Lowell by Amy Lowell? Amy Lowell is building rather better than most. She is in the spirit of Whitman.

Fletcher and Eliot and Stevens are going over the forms of yesterday and making fine stuff to read and enjoy. So is Pound.

Kreymborg is concerned with “finger exercises.” That is, he is studying musical form.

Bodenheim is indifferent to everything but the delicate adjustments of his adjectives. And so forth.

Either a magazine is concerned with its own pet little aversions, or it is too poortoa exist, or it is hopelessly without a broad comprehension of what modern verse is about. Such magazines as the Century are an abomination before the Lord. Either the men who act as editors for all these magazines are positively disgusted with the work of everyone but themselves and their little group of proselytes (à 1a Pound) or else they are vaguely appreciative of others and defined that as the ideal of art (à la Kreymborg) or else they are subtly and timorously reverting to popular forms (a la Eliot etc.). It’s not as bad as that. I wish we might pass the ball though, with a little more skill.

 [First published in The Poetry Journal (Boston) 8.1 (November, 1917): 27-36]