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Literary Collage: Methodological Procedures in the Work of William Carlos Williams

Arnold, Leslie Edgar (1975) Literary Collage: Methodological Procedures in the Work of William Carlos Williams. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94177) (KAR id:94177)

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The organization of William Carlos Williams' longer works, culminating in the poem-city Paterson, is dependent upon the presence of apparently unassimilated, non-"poetic" materials. Such materials, varying considerably in length, tone and function, have similar aesthetic implications. Primarily, they disturb the insistent chronologies of the traditional Epic Poem, drawing the reader into a more active confrontation with the information of the poem. Their larger purpose, however, is to remind both poet and reader of that "real" world, inexhaustible and abundant, which both share. The significance of the continuing presence of this "real" world in Williams' works has been little understood by his critics who have, in the main, concerned themselves with exegetical evaluations of the poem's meaning. Williams him­self believed that meaning was inextricable from form, that a poem's revelation of method was the only possible expres­sion of its "news". In examining the methodological pro­cedures by which he constructed his buildings, I examine the implications of this relationship and of other relationships arising from it— form and formlessness, art and society, the Doctor and the Poet. To understand the process whereby Fact was gradually dynamized into Art by the imagination, I have located Williams' method within the context of collage which I recognize as a specific response to certain irresoluble poetic problems. Whilst his critics have revealed how Williams' interest in painting lead him to experimentation in the short poem, acknowledging the active collaboration between Williams and Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, they have failed to recognize and evaluate the structure of the longer works within the same painterly context. My concern is to examine the collage impulse established by the Cubist painters, where the resolution of purely formal problems lead to the "opening" of spatial organizations, a desperate ventilation of the closed arena of Fine Art. Williams' own experiments in literary form, particularly as they emerge in the parodic structures of the 'twenties and 'thirties, lead him to similar temporal elasticities. I explore the roots of Williams' experimentation in the short speaking poems of A1 Que Quiere (1917) and its stem in several important works— Kora in Hell (1920), Spring and All Cl923), The Great American Novel (1923), and In the American Grain (1925). The final chapter is devoted to the flowering of collage aesthetic and technique in Paterson and investigates the work of the German collage-artist Kurt Schwitters to illuminate the procedures of the long poem, its deliberate lack of finish and the problems arising when the collage-artist rejects the total assimilation of his materials into the composition.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94177
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2022 10:57 UTC
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 09:40 UTC
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