William Carlos Williams
September 17, 1883, Rutherford, New Jersey
March 4, 1963, Rutherford, New Jersey
Country of Origin/Citizenship
Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker
American Physician and Poet
Avant-Garde Movements Associated With
Date & Places of Overlap with Loy
New York City 1916; acted alongside Loy in Lima Bean
William Carlos Williams was born in 1883 to an English father and a Puerto Rican mother in Rutherford, New Jersey. His mother was an artist, and he tried his hand at painting as a young man. In 1902, he graduated from high school in New Jersey and began medical school at the University of Pennsylvania; there, he met Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound, and his early relationships with them shaped his poetic and literary career. During a medical internship in New York a few years later, he began to court Florence “Flossie” Herman; they wed in 1912 and he set up a private medical practice in Rutherford.
Inspired by the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Williams began developing a style of concise and direct treatment of the subject that would propel Imagism. Rosenthal writes that Williams always “had far more of a painter’s eye than do most poets” and “felt a compelling convergence of visual and aural patterns as he wrote.” During this time, he met the Others circle and published his third collection Al Que Quiere! (1917). He acted alongside Mina Loy in the play Lima Beans written by Alfred Kreymborg and shared the same circle of friends. In her 1925 essay “Modern Poetry” Loy discussed Williams as an example of the “new rhythm,” writing, “Here is the poet whose expression derives from his life. He is a doctor. He loves bare facts. He is also a poet, he must recreate everything to suit himself […] he throws the bare fact onto paper in such a way that it becomes a part of Williams’ own nature as well as the thing itself” (Lost Lunar Baedeker 160-161).
Following the publication of Spring and All in 1923, Williams increasingly began to disagree with the work and values of both Pound and Eliot. As a proud American, he felt that these poets held too tightly to European poetic traditions. Williams continued to articulate the importance of a poetry emerging from contact with American history and experience, and funded a little magazine called Contact, which evolved into Contact Press, edited by Robert McAlmon. Contact Press published Mina Loy’s first book of poems Lunar Baedeker.
In 1946 Williams published his long poem Paterson. Twenty years in the making, this work embodied Williams’ belief that poetry must articulate its American locality. In 1951, Williams suffered his first stroke, forcing him to turn his medical practice over to his eldest son. Teaching himself to speak and type once again, he continued to publish into the early 1960s, never letting go of his mantra to “Make it new!”
Loy, Mina, and Roger L. Conover. The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999. 157-161.
Rosenthal, M.L., and Linda Wagner-Martin. “Williams’ Life and Career.” The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, by Ian Hamilton, Oxford University Press, 1994.