Saturday, July 07, 2007

The pure products of America / go crazy

I think I had meant to post this in the spring (although the poem to me has an autumnal quality to it?), also I believe I had meant to post this pretty much since the beginning of this blog, being as it is one of my very favorite pieces of poetry. well I suppose now is as bad a time as any?

"To Elsie" (or "The pure products of America / go crazy")

The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags—succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor's family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

from Spring and all (1923) William Carlos Williams

There's been conjecture that the particular pure American products Williams was writing about in this poem were an (urban) legendary band of north Jersey hill people referred to as the 'Jackson Whites', who were rumored to have been descended from runaway slaves, deserters and camp followers from George Washington's army, and the indigenous Indians of the area who from decades of inbreeding were supposed to have been rife w/ genetic mutations (six fingers and such) not to mention mental retardation. I'm sure a sort of band of north Jersey boogeymen, who funnily enough were referred to in one episode of those other Jersey boogeymen the Sopranos. The kernel of truth about the 'Jackson Whites' can be found on Wikipedia here.

Getting back to Dr. Williams though, here is a link to him reading the above poem:

To Elsie

I've always found something about Williams' poetry that makes me think of him as being neither fish nor fowl and his voice doesn't dissuade me from that line of thought, speaking of which I just found a virtual treasure trove of Williams readings and interviews on the Pennsound page here.

. . . Oh yeah and could Allen Ginsberg have ripped off the opening line of "To Elsie" more in the opening line of his "Howl"? At least he always freely admitted it.