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A Local Pride: The Poetry of "Paterson"

Joel Osborne Conarroe
PMLA
Vol. 84, No. 3 (May, 1969), pp. 547-558
DOI: 10.2307/1261143
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1261143
Page Count: 12
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A Local Pride: The Poetry of "Paterson"
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Abstract

William Carlos Williams invented his own form for "Paterson". His long and complex poem has a number of important literary forebears and counterparts, including the other major American sequences (particularly "Song of Myself" and the "Cantos"), but in each case it is more unlike than like the work with which it shares significant affinities. The poem is a vast montage comprised of associated images, symbols, and themes. Prose is interspersed with various sorts of poetry, which gains its effects through metrical variations, tonal modulations, and concrete imagery. A close look at a representative formal passage and a loose "unfinished piece" helps to clarify the poet's strategy of maneuvering the reader through a series of alternately high- and low-pitched experiences. Williams pays particular attention to visual patterns and to auditory effects, relying heavily on the American idiom and on spoken language. His diction, like his handling of theme, allusion, imagery, and sound, is part of an attempt to break with outmoded conventions and to find a measure and a form capable of expressing his particular vision of contemporary urban America. The sequence as a whole, though uneven in quality, provides incontrovertible evidence of his integrity and of his skill.

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