Saturday, February 26, 2011

Written in 1950

"My own (moral) program can be chiefly stated. I send it for what it may be worth to you: To write badly is an offence to the state since the government can never be more than the government of the words.
If the language is distorted crime flourishes. It is well that in the unobstructed arts (because they can at favorable times escape the perversions which flourish elsewhere) a means is at least presented to the mind where a man can go on living.
For there is in each age a specific criterion which is the objective for the artist in that age. Not to attack that objective is morally reprehensible--as evil as it is awkward to excuse.
Bad art is then that which does not serve in the continual service of cleansing the language of all fixations upon dead, stinking dead, usages of the past. Sanitation and hygiene or sanitation that we may have hygienic writing." --
William Carlos Williams's letter to Robert Creeley, dated March 3, 1950, reproduced in the book Something to Say: William Carlos Williams on Younger Poets, edited by James E. B. Breslin, published by -- who else? -- New Directions. I've been reading an excellent new book by Wendell Berry on Williams, which has driven me back to the poems and remembering the years I walked aimlessly around the town of Rutherford, New Jersey, stopping across the street from the First Presbyterian Church to gaze upon the house where the good doctor lived.

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