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William Carlos Williams: Biography, Famous Poems & Writing Style

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  • 0:01 William Carlos Williams
  • 2:50 Writing Style
  • 3:35 Famous Poems
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Bryanna Licciardi

Bryanna has received both her BA in English and MFA in Creative Writing. She has been a writing tutor for over six years.

William Carlos Williams, part of the Imagist movement in American literature, spent his life trying to convey the American experience. Read about his life, his struggles, and what makes his poetry so unique.

William Carlos Williams

Before his career as a nationally known writer, William Carlos Williams was a very successful doctor. In fact, Williams was the head pediatrician at his hospital. But despite his medical success, Williams always kept one foot in the literary world.

William Carlos Williams was born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey. With his mother from Puerto Rico and his father from New York, Williams grew up speaking Spanish as well as English and French. After attending medical school in Germany, he moved back to New Jersey in 1910 to open his own practice and marry his sweetheart, Florence 'Flossie' Herman.

Somehow Williams found time to write, and within a few years of each other, he published his first two poetry collections, Poems (1909) and The Tempers (1913). He grew restless practicing medicine and began to spend more of his time writing. His admiration of America and his need to belong formed the basis of some of his work. His collection Al Que Quiere! (1917) played up his Puerto Rican roots and what it meant to be an American.

In 1948, after years of being torn between two careers, Williams had a heart attack. Despite his deteriorating health, the poet's career began taking off. Williams was invited to the exclusive Yaddo artists' colony, made a Library of Congress Fellow, and awarded National Book Awards for two of his collections. It took another stroke, however, in 1951, before he finally let go of one of the careers and retired from medicine, although apparently too late.

The following year Williams had his second stroke, after which he was named Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress or, as it is better known today, Poet Laureate, a very respected position. This honor coincided with a post-World War II period known as the McCarthy Era and, after his designation as Poet Laureate, the press turned on Williams, claiming he had ties to communism. Williams' love of and respect for America was important to him, so these rumors were devastating. After the honor was rescinded, he became severely depressed and had to be hospitalized.

In 1955, Williams had his third stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. However, this did not stop him from writing. Eventually, he was able teach himself how to speak again and type with his one functioning hand, though his writing slowed down significantly. On March 4, 1963, Williams died, leaving behind his wife and two sons. A few months after his death, his collection Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962) won the Pulitzer Prize. The Poetry Society has since named a poetry award after him.

Writing Style

Williams' writing goal was to reveal the American experience through introspection of seemingly plain or ordinary subjects. His imagistic, or highly visual, writing style helped sparked the Imagist movement in literature. Drawing from his experiences as a doctor, Williams incorporates American idioms, or figurative phrases and words, and urban colloquialisms, or informal speech, into his poetry. His writing is deceptively casual and readers have come to know that his words mean more than they appear to. Williams is also considered a visual poet, as he was just as aware of how the words appeared on the page. He was known to constantly experiment and push boundaries in rhythm and form.

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