By Word of Mouth: Poems from the Spanish, 1916-1959
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About the Author
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was an American poet and physician. Born in Rutherford, New Jersey to an English father and a Puerto Rican mother, Williams was raised in a bilingual family and spoke mostly Spanish at home. In 1902, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, graduating in 1906 before moving to Leipzig to study pediatrics. In 1909, he self-published Poems in Rutherford, marking a humble start to a distinguished career in literature. In 1912, he married Florence Herman and settled in Paterson, New Jersey, where he established himself as a successful family doctor. With the help of Ezra Pound, Williams published The Tempers (1913) in London and became involved with the Imagists, a short-lived literary movement centered on Pound and H. D. In 1923, he published Spring and All, a hybrid book of prose and free verse poems grounded in observations from daily life. Overshadowed by the work of T. S. Eliot, Williams nevertheless became the figurehead of an experimental American modernism that would flower in his five-book epic poem Paterson, published between 1946 and 1958. In addition to his poetry, which he pursued alongside a decades-long career in medicine, Williams gained a reputation as an autobiographer, essayist, and theorist whose interests ranged from the nature of poetic language to the narrative of American history. He served as a mentor to generations of poets, influencing directly and indirectly the artists of the Beat movement, the San Francisco Renaissance, the Black Mountain school, and the New York School. Pictures from Breughel and Other Poems (1962), his final work, earned Williams a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1963.
This book will reinforce the sense of Williams as one deeply invested in the language and rhythm of the New World -- North as well as South.--Paul Mariani, author of William Carlos Williams, A New World Naked
The great pleasure of By Word of Mouth, Williams' translations of poems from the Spanish, which he did throughout his career, is reading Williams as he puts on the language of Quevedo, Hernández, Neruda, and Parra, among many others, including his own mother. He saw translation as a way to practice and learn his craft, and in this he both takes part in an ongoing tradition of poetry and sets himself apart from the Modernists we think of as his peers, except for Ezra Pound. This collection is the first record I know of of an ongoing engagement with the poetry of Williams' first language.--Mark Jarman