Day 19 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams

Photograph (believed to be passport photograph...
Photograph (believed to be passport photograph) of American poet and physician William Carlos Williams. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mentioned this morning that today’s reading would be a poem by William Carlos Williams, the writer of that little kitchen note recited here this morning by Mathew MacFadyen. It was not quite an apology, was it? “Forgive me / They were so sweet / And so cold.”

First of all, I want to thank you for following me, and for clicking that like button, and most of all for making such wonderful comments. The discussions here these last few weeks have been engaging and sincere. When I decided to take on this challenge of producing a poem reading by video each day of National Poetry Month I had no idea how much activity would get started up here in what has been a long dormant blog. In the last 19 days statistics show April as the busiest month ever on the DadPoet, more than doubling any busy months back in 2009 when I started this thing just to keep writing, keep focused and keep sane. It was good therapy then, but now it has become a joy. From 6 to 60 followers in 19 days? Thank you for being involved. It is a joy getting to know so many of you. From what I’ve seen here in the WordPress community, poetry is making a comeback. It’s thrilling to be a small part of that.

Williams is also the writer of that famous poem about the wheelbarrow. Like the note in “This is Just to Say,” there have been those who have argued whether or not “The Red Wheelbarrow” was a poem at all. Some claim they are just sentences broken up into lines to look like a poem. Wow, there’s another discussion I’d like to have here in the future: What is poetry? But for now, I am sure you can guess my stance. A poem implies, suggests and initiates far more than what is says, and I think both of these poems do that nicely.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

The most surprising thing really is that when I went to listen to Wheelbarrow readings, they were all, including W. C. Williams’ version, way too fast. There was a discussion recently on the SpokenVerse channel on YouTube with Tom O’Bedlam about how often poets are not the best readers of their own material. Obviously, you would not want to be melodramatic about the wheelbarrow, but it really should be slowed down and paced, so that the implications of the lines softly sink in. Though I didn’t do a reading of it yet, you can bet I will!

In “Danse Russe,” the poem for today, Williams’ knack for implying far more than his words say is abundantly evident. The title, for instance. Is it a reference to a movement in Swan Lake, simply Williams’ playfulness with the French way of saying “Russian dance?” Does it make you think of Danse Macbre? What about that word Russe? It looks a lot like ruse, doesn’t it? A bit of trickery? And what does Williams mean by genius? Personally I think the fun is that each question has more than one answer. Art is not science, and it is not easily pinned down to a formula.

Danse Russe

If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—
if I in my north room
danse naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely.
I am best so I”
If I admire my arms, my face
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

– William Carlos Williams 

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17 Replies to “Day 19 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: “Danse Russe” by William Carlos Williams”

  1. SUCH a lovely reading, Dave. I’ve always loved the quiet exuberance of the speaker’s voice in this Williams poem, and your reading picks that up. And the interior photos (plus sleeping children & cat) are beautifully suited as visuals.

    Like

  2. Ah, the old ‘Free verse is just cut-up prose’ debate. It won’t go away, will it? WCW’s wheelbarrow poem is, if nothing else, a piece of communication. It is deliberate, and it is deliberate in its form (a cut-up sentence arranged to look like free verse!). There are three very vivid visual elements – the red wheelbarrow, the vitreous varnish of rainwater, the white chickens – note how our attention is drawn to the words ‘wheelbarrow’ and ‘rainwater’ by their being split in two. These simple images come into the reader’s mind with great facility, but they are introduced by this strange statement: ‘So much depends…’ The simplicity and vividness of the images is given more power by the explicit statement of their importance. Are we being asked to be mindful? Are we being reminded that our capacity to observe is of great importance?

    Short poetry exists, I write it myself. One of its wonders is that one can expend a great deal more words on discussing it than it took to write about it. See what I did there?

    M
    __________
    Marie Marshall
    author/poet/editor
    Scotland
    http://mairibheag.com
    http://kvennarad.wordpress.com

    Like

    1. hahaha… Me TOO! Maybe in some twisted way that would mean it would work… nah. 😉

      Seriously, I am gay. I have an amazing boyfriend named Brian, and my sons are my greatest joy and my most enthusiastic supporters. We seem to have much in common.

      Like

    1. hahaha. So true! Plus my bf would probably object. Though his favorite show was The L Word, and he secretly believes he’s a lesbian.

      I’m not sure I get that. Shrugh.

      Like

  3. This was amazing. You are so well informed about poetry. Another brilliant inspiring reading. I think the poem is a challenge to take note of the minutiae of life. last thing, Someone has stolen my cat…… I have a ginger cat exactly like that one on the footage.LoL.

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  4. David,
    Ok, I know I said in my last comment that I was heading to bed.. but alas, I’m here still put out a comment. So I don’t what was more enjoyable, the opening commentary, The Red Wheelbarrow poem, the reading itself, or reading through the comments 😀
    So I guess that means this was another very successful post for you.

    A couple of quick thoughts on The Red Wheelbarrow:
    Is it possible that he had simply walked by the thing and was struck with the fact that it’s just sitting there but yet there’s so much that relies on it? So, he decided to put that thought to paper. Maybe not trying to make a big to-do .. just a bit of a thought.
    Maybe he was thinking he should get the thing out of the rain.
    Maybe it was a note he scratched out to remind someone of it’s importance so they would stop leaving it in the rain.
    Did I mention it’s late… rambling now but..
    I think if someone can put up a blue square of fabric and others call it art, we’re pretty safe in calling this a poem. The poem definitely paints a picture (more than a blue square does) and I think Marie actually does a great job of breaking it down.

    Another thought… do you hear the same argument given when folks are looking at a haiku? Often times, likely mine included, if you grabbed each end of a haiku and pulled the thing into one line, you’d end up with something pretty close to a sentence. Speaking of haikus, I think I’ll do a little write up on that before the month is finished.

    And so as not to be left out, I’m not gay so apparently it wouldn’t work between me and either of you… What an interesting crew this poetry stuff has pulled together 🙂

    Glad we work well together here… and now I’m off to bed…

    Peace,

    Stephen

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    1. So I posted that comment and headed off to bed smiling to myself that one aspect of our lives is quite different from each other and yet poetry ties us all together… And this popped into my head:

      A three legged stool
      With a round poetry top
      Is quite a beauty

      HMMM let me see

      A three legged stool with a round poetry top is quite a beauty.

      Yep, it’s a sentence.. 😀

      OK, now it’s after 2am and I’ve got an early day tomorrow.

      Stephen

      Like

    2. Regarding Red Wheelbarrow, I don’t know. I know I like it read more slowly, but not too slowly. Not dramatic, just slow. Check out the way Williams reads it online. I was shocked. It doesn’t sound like a poem at all when he reads it. Seriously. lol But I do love the little piece. I simply must admit, I hate the way the poet read it.

      And luckily for me I already have the worlds’s bestest boyfriend. He’s been in one of my poems before, playing music. I’ll have to feature him again soon. But yes, I love this little group we are assembling here. 🙂

      Like

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