By Paul Mariani
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Call it hubris, but my book would be a way of paying homage to the father, of doing for modern American poetry what Ellman had done for European Modernism. There would be shortcomings of course. There would be little on Frost or Sandburg or Robinson, and less than I would have liked on Stevens or H. D. or even Marianne Moore. But that would be because Williams had touched these lives only peripherally, if at all. In spite of which he would be my candidate for one of the truly major American voices of our century, and here between the covers of this book would be my case.
Make it of this, of this, of this. "Reading your biography," Williams's younger son, Paul, wrote me, "I can remember Dad's conversations over the dinner table. You brought them back to me. " For that is the job of the biographer: to re-create the inner drama of such literary skirmishes for those to whom literature meant life itself. Words, the words of the poem, the words of attack, the words of praise. All these words matter in the re-creation of a life. They matter as much as the victories and defeats of a Caesar, a Vercingetorix, a Nelson, a Pershing, a Patton, even though long after those battle sites have been emptied we may walk there in a tranquility that we throw backwards onto those earlier times .
Perhaps now critics will begin to understand that in Pack we have one of Frost'sand Wordsworth'sstrong sons, destined to do his best work as he grows older. I for one have not been disappointed. For in the two years since I wrote this essay, Pack has continued to write narrative poems and dramatic monologues that, taken together, have provided a new direction for him and that show himhalf way through his sixth decadeto be writing at the top of his form. Moreover, in the recent appearance of Clayfeld, mensch and schlemiel, who moves against the translucent backdrop of a Freudian sublime, Pack has provided us with one of the handful of fully blooded comic figures in the American poetic tradition.
A Usable Past: Essays on Modern and Contemporary Poetry by Paul Mariani