Skip to main content

So much depends upon the form into which Williams molds his material, not the material itself. . . .

From this point of view, the material which composes Williams's poem, material chosen from Williams's position as artist, begins to take on the aura of Marcel Duchamp's famous readymades. Duchamp had written that the aesthetic dimension of his urinal, Fountain, which he had purchased in a plumbing store and submitted to the 1917 New York Independents Exhibition, rested in the fact that he had taken "an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view--created a new thought for that object." Just as Duchamp revitalizes our aesthetic sense by placing a urinal in the context of art, Williams places his material in an equally strange environment--the poem--and the wheelbarrow's accidental but very material presence in this new context invests it with a new dignity. It is crucial that Williams's material is banal, trivial: by placing this material in the poem, Williams underscores the distance the material has traveled, and the poem defines a radical split between the world of art and the world of barnyards, between a world which crystallizes the imagination and a world which is a mere exposition of the facts.


From "The Visual Text of William Carlos Williams". Copyright 1983 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.