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William Carlos Williams – the poet behind the plums in the icebox meme

It’s been fun to watch the numerous Twitter memes riffing on the “This Is Just To Say” poem about plums in the icebox written by William Carlos Williams in 1934.

A signed photo of William Carlos Williams

The original poem, a true example of modernist poetry, goes:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The meme sees people applying the style of zero punctuation and sharp, short wording to numerous pop songs such as Mambo #5, Ice Ice Baby, and Call Me Maybe. It’s one of Twitter’s more cerebral memes of recent times but it’s wonderful to see poetry alive and vibrant… even when there’s a Vanilla Ice connection.

Williams was an influential poet in his day and even contributed the introduction to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. This Is Just To Say is taught in American high schools but today almost no-one buys books of William Carlos Williams’ poetry. AbeBooks has only sold seven copies of his books in 2017 and we usually do very well with poetry since regular bookstores rarely carry large selections.

Williams (18831963) paid the bills by working as a physician. He was chief of pediatrics for Passaic General Hospital in New Jersey from 1924 until his death. In his spare time, he wrote short stories, plays, novels, and essays. His modernist style of poetry was not always well received although he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems in 1963.

In 1920, he published a book of experimental prose and poetry called Kora in Hell: Improvisations., which was dubbed “incoherent” by American expatriate poet Ezra Pound. His 1923 collection, Spring and All, was overshadowed  by TS Eliot’s Waste Land, which was universally acclaimed. He published an autobiography in 1951 and copies are easy to find.

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