Between the pages of a book I thought was lost, I find an invoice. Prove that I bought it in July 2000 and that I received a 35% discount. I paid 7,150 pesos, a figure that I can not calculate today, because of the history of Argentine inflation. I try to remember if the price paid was for me an insignificant expense or a foolish waste. I try to remember the moment I walk to the box with the book in my hand, perhaps talking to one of the friendly vendors. Nothing, not a trace. The only thing that remains, intact, is the book, beautiful edition of Era, with geometric drawings on the cover and covers. It is one of the 2,000 copies printed in Mexico, in 1973.
The poem by William Carlos Williams is what, in photography, is called a snapshot. Record an event as it was seen suddenly
The chance finding allows me to once again admire Octavio Paz's translation of Twenty poems, of William Carlos Williams. The pages face the Spanish version and the original in English; thus they invite to exert that pedantic control that suffer the best bilingual editions. I stop that work of literary police, although I do not stop comparing some verses.
I open the book and go directly to 'The red wheelbarrow', enameled by the rain, among white chicks. Step then to 'Between walls', where, with radical simplicity, only the pieces of a green bottle shine. I reach the 'Winter descends', when on October 20, on the field wet with rain and crossed by a ditch, the leaves of a birch fall on the grass, with its reds, oranges, oil greens, yellows and whites. Nothing announces a dog until the end of the short stanzas. Suddenly, the wet and colorful peasant idyll changes unexpectedly because "a young dog jumps out of the old barrel". Surprise and final. Nothing about what happened next.
The poem ends there, as if Williams would have thought it enough to watch a dog jump on the field. By the way, the jump of a dog, evoked by Williams, is unforgettable. The poem leaves us imagining the poet doctor, settled all his life in the small town called Rutherford where he was born in 1883 and died 80 years later. William Carlos Williams walked, at the end of his consultation, through these fields of New Jersey and found animals that, so silent and self-absorbed, were precisely poetic. Poetry is where it is not sought.
How can poetry be written with a grade zero rhetoric? That naked rhetoric of Williams culminates in the poem that presents the rise of a cat to a cupboard. First the right leg disappears, then the hind leg and finally the whole animal. Lyric subjectivity has become pure objectivity. Williams is an artist of the look.
The poem is what, in photography, is called a snapshot. Record an event as it was seen suddenly, because there is no time to measure the light, correct the frame, measure the distance, or choose the portion of the real that will appear in the photograph. Of course, that's what snapshots were like before, because today everything we capture with the lens has been prepared and corrected at an incredible speed by the omnipotent digital awareness of our cameras. But the old snapshots could not rely on the technique, but on the photographer's luck to get it right or wrong.
Anyway, in the poem-snapshot of William Carlos Williams, the following happens: a cat climbs into a cupboard and finally all of it disappears into a pot. The previous sentence, of course, does not mean much. But the writing by Williams is as follows: "The cat / climbed / in an auction / from the cupboard and / first the leg / front right / cautiously / after the back / disappeared / in the abyss / empty / pot" . End. Until we get to the last verses, we do not know that there is an empty pot on the cupboard. The instant-poem reveals it and leaves us suspended in front of that other void, different from what the cat expected or wanted.
Why is the austere surface of these verses profound? Why is it hard to forget Williams' cat, who has not even deigned to turn around and look at us before disappearing into the pot? Perhaps the great success is precisely this indifference, this isolation between the poet and the cat. Williams does not mythify the already too mythical animal, but presents a precise movement made by an indifferent being. There is no animalistic sentimentality. There is nothing, except a cat that disappears.
Williams does not look for essences in the cat jump inside the pot. The disappearance of the animal takes us by surprise because there is no expansion, no images, no allusions. About cats we already have enough literature. Williams, on the other hand, only says: that's the way cats are, unconscious perfection. Do not imagine anything else because you would be attributing to them a subjectivity that I, William Carlos Williams, do not pursue or celebrate. It simply describes the perfection of a clean jump, without unnecessary audacity and without hesitation.