Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sounds a little cranky to me …

… The Mischievous Warmth of Donald Hall | Commonweal Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

he is led to some sharp remarks about two of last century’s favorite poetry anthologists, Louis Untermeyer and Oscar Williams. Williams’s Little Treasure of Modern Poetry “prints nine bad poems by Oscar Williams and four by his wife Gene Derwood,” Halls reports, and continues parenthetically, “(William Carlos Williams gets two.)” This reader remembers that book, with its “printed oval photographs of the poets,” but failed to remember one salient fact acerbically noted by Hall, who asks, “Would you care to guess whose portrait ends the book? Or whose portrait resides next to Homer on the cover of the paperback?” Randall Jarrell once said that Oscar Williams’s poems were “written on a typewriter by a typewriter.” Hall deflates Williams’s status further still, by recounting once introducing him to T. S. Eliot at a dinner party. “Eliot said, ‘I recognize you from your photographs,’” writes Hall, adding that “without irony Williams burbled that he recognized Eliot too.”
Williams may not have been such a great poet, but The Pocket Book of Modern Verse introduced a lot of people to a lot of worthwhile poets. He deserves some credit for that.


  1. I find the anecdote about the dog pissing distasteful.

    1. Yeah, I think we could have done without that.

  2. There must be a poem or two that I know from Williams's anthology (and a couple of Untermeyer's as well). But in the spirit of piling on, a couple of bits from Randall Jarrell, a review collected in Poetry and the Age:

    "[the preface] ends as always, with the truthful statement that W.H. Auden prefers the poetry of Oscar Williams to that of Wallace Stevens and Dylan Thomas. (At this point I always wish that the grasses were waving over me and over Auden too.)...
    (Also the book has the merit of including a considerably larger selection of Oscar Williams's poems than I have ever seen in any other anthology. There are nine of his poems--and five of Hardy's. It takes a lot of courage to like your own poetry almost twice as well as Hardy's.)"