“Seek it in Poetry”: John Dewey, William Carlos Williams, and Avant-Gardist Educational Reform

Author:Alan Golding Time:2019-07-10 Click:

This essay looks at the unlikely conjunction of avant-garde poetics, educational reform, and the ideas of John Dewey in the work of William Carlos Williams, a conjunction unaddressed in the major critical treatment of Williams and Dewey, John Beck’s Writing the Radical Center. I focus mainly on Williams’s work of the 1920s, when he was reading Dewey’s essays in The Dial and thinking through some of his most central poetic and philosophic principles in relation to Dewey. This decade culminates in the Dewey-influenced The Embodiment of Knowledge. Williams’s hopes in Embodiment that poetry might somehow contribute to reshaping the bases of the educational system had already appeared a few years earlier in one of the touchstones of avant-garde poetics, the 1923 Spring and All, where a number of the later work’s central concepts arise. With Spring and All seized by customs officials and Embodiment unpublished until 1974, this crucial aspect of Williams’s poetics went almost completely overlooked at the time. However, the notes that make up Embodiment extend Spring and All not just thematically but in their disjunctive, paratactic, and tonally confrontational method as Williams works out through the 1920s his avant-garde poetics of educational reform.

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