The Red Wheel Barrow, Imagination, and the Christian Poet

It has been too long since I last posted, as bronchitis and sinusitis descended into my system and knocked me out for awhile. Unfortunately, my blog and writing had to take a back seat until I had the energy and ability to write without abandoning my family and my job. Hopefully, this blog finds you in good (or returning to good!) health. I’m pleased to announce that my review of William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All has been published by the Englewood Review of Books. An excerpt:

Originally published in 1923, Spring and All, Williams’s manifesto of imagination and poetry, became one of, if not the most, influential works for mid to late twentieth-century poets. Produced on the heels of the Great War, Williams calls for new forms, new images, new beings, and new cultures because all previous forms and ideas had led us into destruction and death. Today, we again find our American selves faced with war and economic and food crises. In a country where politicians are calling for thousands of math and science teachers, where standardized tests and business skills trump imagination and art, Williams’s monumental work yet again stands at the threshold of form and tradition, begging for a savior.

Read the entire review here. Don’t forget to share your thoughts–is it too much to associate imagination and creativity with Jesus?


5 thoughts on “The Red Wheel Barrow, Imagination, and the Christian Poet

  1. “Is it too much to associate imagination and creativity with Jesus?”

    Short answer: no. Certainly no more “much” than to associate them with Nisaba and Nabu, Seshat and Thoth, Fu Hsi, Sarasvati, Hermes, Calliope, Odin, or any other of the many divinities associated with imagination and creativity. In fact, you are on solid ground, at least with Blake, who in “Milton: Book the First” writes, “Human Imagination / […] is the Divine Body of the Lord Jesus.”

    But of course it depends on exactly what you mean to say. Surely you’re not suggesting that Jesus inspired Williams but the poet didn’t recognize it? Or that a Christian poet is necessarily better than an atheist poet, or a poet who lived before the birth of Jesus? Etc.

    In any case, this kind of association is tricky. Dante was forced by his faith to consign even his mentor Virgil to hell, along with his best friend Guido Cavalcanti. (Of course, he would consign you to hell as well, since you’re a heretic—a Protestant, not a Catholic.) It’s one of the aspects of Dante’s conception that has always repelled me. By contrast, Blake’s belief about Human Imagination never led him to found a fanatical dogma upon it.

    My advice: follow Blake, not Dante!

  2. Hey, don’t call me Shirley. 🙂

    I really I hope I haven’t communicated that one poet is better than another because he/she is Christian, or worse because he/she is an atheist. I hope I never communicate that, and I hope I never think/believe that. Taking the stance that one can only be creative if he knows/believes in Jesus is foolish, selfish, and arrogant. I would even say that Jesus himself would frown on such a Pharisaical stance.

    I am fascinated though, in how ideas of Christ’s sacrifice, salvation, and redemption appear in literature/art/film/music, even when not intended (or purposely avoided). My initial reaction to your question about Jesus inspiring Williams was a firm no way. But I may need to give it more thought. If I believe that Jesus, being the word and physical being of God, is the great creator and origin of creativity and imagination, then I must consider that Jesus inspires all creative works. This is a bold and possibly inflammatory statement! I’m definitely NOT claiming all works as Christian, because a claim like that eliminates the prism of artist making choices and decisions about his art. But if mankind was created in the image of God, then creativity in itself is part our image/being–a direct connection with Jesus. As a side note, I think this idea holds consistent regardless of how that creation of man took place.

    I really do like Spring and All. The way the entire book works, interacts, and grows upon itself is pretty amazing. I laugh at the irony of Williams’ call for newness and peace, and yet the language poets, who claim Spring and All to be their inspiration (or just theirs, period), have assisted in driving apart and fragmenting the poetry community. The only issue I really have with the work is when Williams claims imagination to be supreme. I know I said earlier that Jesus is the creator and inventor of imagination, so I guess some would say that that means that Jesus=imagination. I’m not willing to say that, as I still think that Jesus created imagination, and I firmly believe in not idolizing creation itself. However, I do believe that imagination and creativity points back to its origin.

    We’ve talked before about the creative influence of different gods in different cultures, and I’m interested in researching those cultures and traditions to explore what each entity says about creativity, art, and the cost of salvation. Of course, I have a hypothesis of what I’d find, but the idea is truly fascinating. But I have no idea where to start such an undertaking!

  3. Interesting turns in your thinking here, Joel! I don’t get some of it—”Jesus created imagination,” but certainly imagination existed before Jesus lived. Or are you talking about a mystical Jesus, in the Blakean sense? (But Blake didn’t say that Jesus created imagination; he said that Jesus’ divine body IS imagination.) Well, you’ll have to do that research and let me know what you find out. One small point to watch for: not all traditions have a concept of salvation….

    In my little critique I forgot to mention that overall your review of Spring and All is wonderful. Keep ’em comin’!

  4. I think you’ve helped me realize my next blog post! So I’ll be brief here and then expound in a post later this week. I’m not sure what Blake’s mystical Jesus entailed, but I see and label the physical presence of God of the Jesus. John 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was God, the Word was with God” (or something close to this…I’m paraphrasing :). The author then goes on to say that the Word was Jesus. So if the being of Jesus was around since the beginning, when does he show up? I think when God walks with Adam in the Garden of Eden, it’s Jesus. The fourth being in the fiery furnace with Shadrack, Meshack, and Abnego is Jesus. Now he wasn’t named Jesus until he became human, so when mentioning Jesus I’m not just talking about the historical figure bound to the period of time he was physically human. Does that qualify as mystical?

    And thanks the compliment! It means a lot to me.

  5. Interesting. And mystical. I couldn’t get there from here, of course, but I’ve always had an aesthetic interest in religion (I stole that line from Lawrence Durrell) and so would love to see you spin this stuff out in some kind of detail….

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