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Monday, July 18, 2011

Number 220: PLUM CRAZY–Wiliam Carlos Williams "This Is Just To Say" (with poems by Koch and Hurley)

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in
the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

--William Carlos Williams

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

-- Kenneth Koch

This Is Just to Say

For William Carlos Williams

I have just

asked you to

get out of my


even though

you never


I would

Forgive me

you were


me insane.

-- Erica Lynn Hurley (Gambino)

Hap Notes: WCW's spiny poems have engendered quite a few parodies or tributes over the years but Koch and Gambino's are my favorites of the lot. Williams is going for an economy of thought which can often get warped as one tries to discern his meaning.

Seriously, who is this guy who is eating the plums? Is he a lover or a friend? What did you assume about the speaker in the poem as you read it? That he was a friend? A random plum thief? Well, of course, not, I'm just emphasizing how much we take for granted in this ultra-short poem. A random plum thief would neither know nor care what you were saving for breakfast. The speaker in the poem gets a lot of delight from the plums, much more than just a guy eating a plum would get. Why is that? What else is going on in this poem? Did Williams want us to think THAT much about it? Yes. He did.

Notice that both parodies take issue with a person who feels entitled to take something from you and they're not just talking about plums (and neither is Williams, probably.) By the way, you know that "icebox" is just an old-fashioned word for refrigerator, yes?

Koch's take (which was lovingly done, as most Koch poems are) is exaggerated for hilarity. He takes the idea right over the top, as Koch is wont to do (which is what is so appealing in his poetry, I think.) Koch's last verse (#4) refers specifically to Dr. Williams, in a good-natured jab at Williams' other profession. Koch's natural effusiveness and enthusiasm just permeates his parody/tribute.

Now, Gambino takes a direct, practical route to the Williams poem. See how she asserts that the plum thief (or whoever) has taken a bit more than she can handle. She's implying with this poem that the person she is addressing is making her crazy with a variety of personal things we don't know and things we do know since it is parody. The speaker is obviously unhappy with the poet-plum thief. Or, if not him, someone else she is equating with his poem. Again- look at all the assumptions we have to make, even with this frank poem, about what is going on.

Williams poems often let you do a lot of work. Sometimes, one does want to kick him out and just read a poem that says directly what it means. Ah! And there's the rub, because there are no words that just mean one particular thing are there? Each word we use is so loaded with images and connotations that it's hard to think of one that means the very same thing to all of us. Even simple words like yes, no, stop, ouch!, mom, dad, etc- are loaded with YOUR feelings and thoughts. In Williams' search for simplicity he ends up still making us all read deeply.

Let's let Williams have the last word on this kind of poetry, where one must look deeply into simple words for more:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

-- William Carlos Williams

Here's where we've talked about Williams before:

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