Our theme for the library this year is What a Wonderful World, and to that end, we’re focusing on seeing the wonder in our world. Usually, every month at the desk, we have an article available for patrons to read and discuss with Julie, our library director, but this year, we’re handing out poems instead. Our trusty library goose is also helping us pen a monthly column that focuses on some of the gems in our poetry collection.
For July, our poem is William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Williams is a noted American Modernist poet, and this poem is considered a quintessential example of Imagist poetry. Imagists were more interested in writing about concrete things rather than abstractions, and they favored precise language while doing so. Though Williams was a noted poet during his time, it was not his day job. He made his living as a pediatric doctor while writing during his leisure time.
Williams was a first-generation American who spoke English as a second language–his father was from England by way of the Dominican Republic and his mother was Puerto Rican, and they spoke Spanish at home–and he was very interested in cultivating what he saw as an American school of poetry rather than drawing from more traditional European and English schools of thought on the subject. He was especially interested in writing intensely lyrical poems with uniquely American language.
Mary Oliver is a very different poet than Williams. Whereas he eschewed more traditional poetic influences, Oliver drew inspiration from British Romantic poets, as well as 19th century American writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.
Oliver also had a narrower focus for her work–after surviving a severely dysfunctional childhood, she found refuge in the beauty of nature, which her poetry celebrates in clear, accessible language. Oliver spent many years living in New England before relocating to Florida, and her poetry is an evocative celebration of the landscapes she knew and loved.
For all their stylistic differences, her striking use of imagery is reminiscent of Williams to me. If you’d like to sample Oliver’s work–or revisit it–check out her collection West Wind at the Berryville Public Library.
Who is your favorite poet? What’s your favorite poem? Do you ever write poetry? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on this item or to place it on hold.