- La invención necesaria by William Carlos Williams
Prior to leaving on October 3, 2013, for a month-long visit to Chile, home of the grand, self-proclaimed antipoet Nicanor Parra, I read on-line in the country’s main newspaper, El Mercurio, the review of a just-published selection of William Carlos Williams’s essays, poems, and correspondence, translated into Spanish by Juan Antonio Montiel. As soon as I arrived in Santiago, I found and purchased a copy of La invención necesaria, the book’s title taken from a phrase in a Williams letter written in October 1948 to Jean Starr Untermeyer and included in the selection of Williams correspondence. One of my principal interests in acquiring this book was to see if Montiel had by any chance translated two Williams poems on jazz, his “Shoot it Jimmy!” from Spring and All (1923) and his “Ol’ Bunk’s Band” (1945), since I was scheduled to talk about jazz in literature at the Universidad del Desarrollo and the Universidad Metropolitana. Unfortunately, Montiel’s selection does not include the two poems on jazz, but to my delight I discovered that the works contained in the book reveal a cogent perspective on Williams’s thought and artistry, all rendered into Spanish in translations of the highest quality, introduced by the translator, and with, at the back of the book, his extremely valuable notes on each selection.
As the newspaper reviewer indicated, “Williams the man and his work, insufficiently known and published in the Hispanic sphere (at least through available translations), possess more than enough relevance and attractiveness for this book to demand one’s attention.”1 In the past, Spanish translations of Williams’s poetry had been limited for the most part to some of the early poems, such as “The Red Wheelbarrow,” “A Sort of a Song,” and “Between Walls,” all translated by Octavio Paz in his Veinte poemas (1973), but Paz also translated five poems from Williams’s [End Page 79] 1954, 1955, and 1962 volumes.2 As Montiel points out in his prologue, appropriately entitled “Fragments of a New Language,” only two books have included translations of some of Williams’s essays, and he adds that sadly only one incomplete edition of the essays has been published in English.3 The translator speculates that because Spanish readers have been deprived of Williams’s prose writings his poems have not penetrated into Hispanic culture, since the essays complete and explain his poetry. To Montiel’s credit, he has chosen fourteen poems that for the most part are not those usually selected to represent in Spanish the poet’s themes and techniques. “Apology,” the first poem in the book’s poetry section, comes from 1917 and speaks to one of Williams’s central concerns, which is addressed in most of the works selected by Montiel for translation and is expressed by the poem’s opening line: “Why do I write today?” The translator purposely chose works that present Williams’s views on poetics or the writing of poetry (as in “How to Write” from 1936, not found in Williams’s Selected Essays), his belief in the need to invent a new American prosody (as in his letter to Untermeyer), and his commentaries on the “variable foot” (as in the 1960 Walter Sutton interview included, along with the 1918 “Prologue to Kora in Hell,” in the fifth section of Montiel’s book, subtitled “Improvisations”). In keeping with the fact that Williams ascribed such great importance to his discovery of the “variable foot,” the translator selected nine out of the fourteen poems included in the book from the three volumes in which Williams employs his tripartite line: The Desert Music, Journey to Love, and Pictures from Brueghel.4
Montiel’s prologue primarily deals with three basic issues: Wallace Stevens’s notion that in writing poetry Williams took an anti-poetic approach; Karl Shapiro’s assertion that Williams was not an...