Monday, September 30, 2013

ModPo 2013 #21 What Poetry Depends Upon: On Williams' "The Red Wheel Barrow"

Image from

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams 

so much depends 

a red wheel 

glazed with rain 

beside the white 

Once again, I'm glad to have watched the video discussion. So much depends upon the phrase "So much depends/ upon!" I would have totally missed it!

I loved how the image itself became dependent on the awareness of making something new, the meta-poetic. It could easily have stood as a crisp imagist poem but the first two lines draw attention to themselves. Are they superfluous? Why does so much depend upon a red wheel barrow? So much of art depends upon something, the lenses that detect the picture, the artist from whose perspective we see the red wheel barrow. 

This brings me to the beauty of language. There is never really just one way to look at things. As Wallace Stevens points out: there are at least thirteen ways to see a blackbird. A red wheel barrow is not just a red wheel barrow, not just the one glazed with rain water contrasted beside the white chickens. So much depends on the speaker, so much depends on the reader. The red wheel barrow is the pastoral life. The red wheel barrow is what is left of the pastoral life. The red wheel barrow shines with rain water because the rain water makes all things new. The red wheel barrow is the speaker and the reader. Or the reader and the speaker are the white chickens. And without the red wheel barrow the speaker and reader do not come into view. 

It's amazing how much can come out of a few photographic lines. Poetry depends upon traditions and innovations.  It makes me want to review all my poems and see how innovative I have been or how inarticulate or unaware I really am about the sources of my poetry. 

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