Imaginative "Blobs of Paint": William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara, and the Artistry of Jackson Pollock

Dr. Paul Cappucci
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"And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets", Frank O'Hara writes in his manifesto "Personism", "are better than the movies" ("Collected Poems" 498). As evident by this praise, it is clear to see that William Carlos Williams was an influential presence in Frank O'Hara's development as a poet. This point has been fairly well documented by critics. I even have explored this relationship in a previous conference paper (a different topic than this current proposal) recently published by "Papers on Language and Literature". In an extension of my work on both poets, I have been examining their ties to the visual arts over the past few summers. (I have been able to do this work thanks in large part to the funding I have received through a Georgian Court Summer Research Grant and Faculty Fellowship.) Other scholars have covered certain aspects of this general topic. For instance, numerous critics have looked at the way Cubism and Dadaism influenced Williams's early writings. Marjorie Perloff also has written a seminal text on O'Hara's involvement with several of the postwar painters. What makes my study different is its attempt to analyze the ideas and poetry of Williams and O'Hara in the light of Abstract Expressionism, a seminal artistic movement in America. The proposed paper, in fact, will present a portion of my work on Williams and O'Hara's response to the techniques and experiments of Abstract Expressionism in general and to the work of Jackson Pollock specifically. Both men alluded to Pollock in their verse, but their responses to the innovative painter are more complicated than that, especially in regard to his technique. It is not my aim to merely suggest that these poets translated the work of Pollock into verse, but that they found shared ideas about art within this avant-garde movement, most popularly identified with Pollock, that enabled them to develop and extend their own unique experiments with American verse.

By aligning these artists, we are witness to a unique expression of artistic synergy in postwar America, a time when New York seemed to replace Paris as the center of the avant-garde. To better appreciate the link between Williams and O'Hara's poetry of the period, it's essential to examine their interest in Abstract Expressionism. They both respond, in particular, to Pollock's creative design, unflagging experimentation, and desire to represent, in all of its honesty and vitality, what Williams describes in "Paterson V" as the "hole / in the bottom of the bag" (P 210).

Keywords: William Carlos Williams, Frank O'Hara, Jackson Pollock, Abstract Expressionism, American Poetry
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Paul Cappucci

Assistant Professor of English, Department of English in the School of Humanities, Georgian Court University

Professor Cappucci is an Assistant Professor of English at Georgian Court University in New Jersey. He is starting his fifth year with the University and teaches courses in 19th and 20th century American literature. His primary specialization is American poetry. Professor Cappucci has published journal articles on W.C. Williams, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, and Frank O'Hara. He has an article forthcoming concerning Herman Melville's Civil War poetry that will appear in War, Literature, and the Arts. In 2003, Edwin Mellen Press published his study of Williams's poetry entitled William Carlos Williams's Poetic Response to the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike.

Ref: H05P0188