Here not there (William Carlos Williams)

I am not nearly literate enough to make my writing shine with splendor, gilt with the armor of too many conquistadores, nor to glisten like mercury in the factories of bygone industrial ages.

I embrace this failing; I have few options. I solace in others, who combine their own skill with sight and moral vision.

William Carlos Williams has always been one of these to me.

I encountered him already too fully grown, only as a consequence of what I would later learn to call indigenism. This fragment comes from his astonishing, book-length poem, In the American Grain, which must be one of the most tragic, scathing, kenning, and sighted of all assessments of the “American character” and its history. It is the first fragment I encountered by him. I found it, if I recall, in a book by Vine Deloria, but perhaps that is mistaken. I used it as the epigram for an early paper on death.

The land! don’t you feel it? Doesn’t it make you want to go out and lift dead Indians tenderly from their graves, to steal from them–as if it must be clinging even to their corpses–some authenticity, that which–
Here not there. (p. 74)


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