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William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), author of Paterson and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel, is widely considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Also a short-story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator, he helped in a big way to establish modernism in America.
With this appearance of his magnum opus, the publisher's laudable project of republishing Williams's poetic oeuvre in modern scholarly editions has been completed. The high quality of the two volumes of Collected Poems ( LJ 7/88; LJ 10/86) is replicated here. MacGowan's fine edition sorts out the poem's complicated textual history. His notes will be most useful to future readers, students, and scholars, as they elucidate difficulties and clarify the provenance of the many prose excerpts from various sources included in this unique work. A modernist classic, Paterson is a nativist's answer to the cosmopolitan Pound and Eliot, ``a reply to Greek and Latin with the bare hands.'' By exploring the local, Williams sought to descry the universal and to find in city and landscape symbolic analogues for the essential issues of human life. Highly recommended.-- Frank J. Lepkowski, Oakland Univ., Rochester, Mich.
Despite its epic scope, Paterson is often chosen by nonspecialists, such as the social critic Robert Coles, as the way in to a discovery of Williams' exuberant and humane career as a poet. The going is made easier and the way is clarified by this invaluable new edition, for in it Williams' achievement can be seen in its proper context. His social concern, for instance, in contrast to that of other modernists, becomes more apparent. Misprints have been corrected, fugitive verses or sources have been tracked down, tab spaces have been restored and the crowded typography of recent editions has been opened up. Textual notes are thorough. We learn, for instance, that Williams changed the phrase ``seldom dig'' in a letter of Allen Ginsberg's excerpted here to ``seldom did,'' probably because the older poet did not know the Beat usage. Williams at his strongest is as good an American poet as there has been; still, it must be noted that not all of the five books of Paterson (plus fragments of a sixth) are up to that level. Yet, with this edition, the important project of re-editing Williams' poetry is skillfully completed. The work of an experimental master is laid out in a definitive edition. (Nov.)