With the publication of this book, Charles Tomlinson's edition of Williams's Selected Poems, New Directions has introduced a gathering larger and more comprehensive than the original 1963 edition.
Opening with Professor Tomlinson's superbly clear and helpful introduction this selection reflects the most up-to-date Williams scholarship. In addition to including many more pieces, Tomlinson has organized the whole in chronological order.
"It isn't what he [the poet] says that counts as a work of art," Williams maintained, "it's what he makes, with such intensity of purpose that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity."
His Selected Poems sets the violent brooding of Williams's (A Dream of Mind) early writing against the lucid equanimity of his more mature work. The poetry spans three decades and offers an outline of his development. We get only occasional glimpses of the crude brutality that characterizes the poems from Lies (1969) and I am the Bitter Name (1972) in the mostly affirmative selections from Tar (1983), Flesh and Blood (1987) and his other recent books. Early, physically explicit and jarring poems like ``Saint Sex'' lead to the more cerebral work that has come to represent his style. The poems excerpted from The Lark. The Thrush. The Starling. (1983) reinforce a reader's impression of Williams's versatility while offering a formal alternative to the lengthy, Whitmanesque lines that he appears to prefer. And, though not ground-breaking, the dozen new poems here offer a closing, microcosmic view of his career with topically and stylistically familiar work. In ``Villanelle of the Suicide's Mother,'' however, Williams unexpectedly uses a formal rhyme scheme to achieve the chilling impression of a cyclic children's song. Selected by the poet, this volume is a formidable retrospective.