The Business Card of William Carlos Williams: Doctor by Day, Poet by Night

There you have it: the busi­ness card of William Car­los Williams. Yes, that William Car­los Williams. Imag­ist poet, nov­el­ist, play­wright, essay­ist, crit­ic, writer of short sto­ries — and New Jer­sey pedi­a­tri­cian. Would any of us, upon read­ing his writ­ten work, have advised him not to quit his day job? And yet quit it he did not, prac­tic­ing med­i­cine by day and writ­ing in the evenings. Giv­en that his office hours evi­dent­ly ran to 8:30 p.m., he must have spent some seri­ous­ly late nights at his desk. But because Williams burnt the can­dle at both ends, we may today enjoy poems like The Red Wheel­bar­row, This is Just to Say, and the vast­ly longer Pater­son, an adap­ta­tion into verse of the city of Pater­son, New Jer­sey. Such poems show that the con­crete and the every­day — just the things you’d expect a small-town fam­i­ly doc­tor to deal with — nev­er escaped Williams’ atten­tion. Crit­ics tend to cite one phrase from Pater­son that sums up this sen­si­bil­i­ty: “No ideas but in things.”

In the clip just above, you can hear Allen Gins­berg, a friend of Williams but a decid­ed­ly more bohemi­an sort, read from Williams’ Spring and All. It cer­tain­ly seems pos­si­ble that the poet­’s main­te­nance of a day job and all its trap­pings of the non-poet­ic life not only failed to ham­per but actu­al­ly fueled his writ­ing. Wal­lace Stevens, anoth­er poet who famous­ly held a seem­ing­ly mun­dane par­al­lel career, said as much about his own tra­di­tion­al employ­ment. He cred­it­ed the dai­ly walk to his lawyer’s job at the Amer­i­can Bond­ing Com­pa­ny, and lat­er the Hart­ford Acci­dent and Indem­ni­ty Com­pa­ny, with pro­vid­ing the men­tal space that made what we think of as his last­ing work pos­si­ble. This work led to a Pulitzer Prize in 1955. An offer of a place on Har­vard’s fac­ul­ty fol­lowed, but he turned it down. Some­times we sim­ply hit upon a lifestyle that lets us express what we need to express. Did Stevens’ lifestyle work for him? Have a lis­ten to him read­ing Final Solil­o­quy of the Inte­ri­or Para­mour. Per­haps the results speak for them­selves:

A spe­cial thanks goes to Steve Sil­ber­man (aka @stevesilberman) for send­ing Williams’ busi­ness card our way.

Relat­ed con­tent:

William Car­los Williams Reads His Poet­ry (1954)

Bill Mur­ray Reads Wal­lace Stevens Poems — “The Plan­et on The Table” and “A Rab­bit as King of the Ghosts”

101 Ear­ly Wal­lace Stevens Poems on Free Audio

Harold Bloom Recites ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’ by Wal­lace Stevens

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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