Despite all my issues with the grand Mr. Williams in my previous post, his “interview” about being a writer and doctor reveals an interesting (and helpful) perspective. William Carlos Williams above all else is a proponent of language and of medicine. Being in the world helped him write about the world. If he had not been a doctor, it seems he would have not been able to be a poet. His views outlined below, excerpted from The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, are a kick to get moving. So after you read this, ask yourself what is the other half of my writing practice? What helps me see below the surface of nonsense and humdrum to the substance of poetry?
AKS: So, Mr. Williams, what do you write?
WC: I write poetry, essays, plays, stories, and novels. Please refer to Poetry Foundation for a full listing
AKS: How did you get your start as a doctor and writer?
WC: Right after high school I was accepted into medical school, but soon discovered theater.
“The struggle was on…I thought I’d quit medical school and get a job as a scene shifter! Such was my humility….It cost 25 cents to sit in the top balcony to see plays in those days. I wanted to write, to write plays–plays in verse! I saw the great Ben Greet Players outdoors in the Botanical Gardens. I climbed a ten-foot spike fence around the nearby cemetery to get into that one. I had no money.
But it was money that decided me. I would continue medicine, for I was determined to be a poet. only medicine, a job I enjoyed, would make it possible for me to live and write as I wanted to. I would live: that first, and write, by God as I wanted to if took me all eternity to accomplish my design. My furious wish was to be normal, undrunk, balanced in everything. I would marry (but not ye!) have children and still write, in fact, therefore to write. I would not court disease, live in the slums for the sake of art, give lice a holiday. I would not “die for the art” but live for it, grimly! and work, work work, (like [my] Pop) beat the game and be free (like [my] Mom, pour soul!) to write, write, write as I alone should write, for the sheer drunkenness of it.
AKS: How do you find time to write while also being a full time doctor?
As far as writing itself is concerned it takes next to no time at all. Much too much is written every day of our lives. We are overwhelmed by it. But when at times we see through the welter of evasive or interested patter, when by chance we penetrate to some moving detail of a life, there is always time to bang out a few pages. The thing isn’t to find time–we waste hours every day doing nothing at all–the difficulty is to catch the evasive life of the thing, to phrase words in such a way that all stereotype will yield a moment of insight. That is where the difficulty lies. We are lucky when our lives will send up its pure water. It seldom happens. A thousand trivialities push themselves in front, our lying habits of everyday speech…
AKS: So you mentioned earlier, that you enjoyed medicine…tell us more about that.
It’s the humdrum, the day-in, day-out, everyday work that is the real satisfaction of the practice of medicine; the million and half patients a mand has seen on his daily visits over a forty-year period of weekdays and Sundays that make up his life. I have never had a money practice; it would have been impossible for me. But the actual calling on people, at all times and under all conditions, the coming to grips with the intimate conditions of their lives, when they were being born, when they were dying, watching them die, watching them get well, has always absorbed me.
As a writer, I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather it was my very food and drink, the very thing that made it possible for me to write. Was I not interested in man? There was the thing, right in front of me. I could touch it, smell it. I was myself, naked, just as it was with out a lie telling itself to me in the its very own terms. Oh, I knew it wasn’t for the most part giving me anything profound, but it was giving me terms, basic terms with which I could spell out matters as profound as I cared to think of.
[You] naively ask [me], “How do you do it? How do you carry on an active business like that and at the same timefind time to write? You must be superhuman. You must have the energy of two men.” But you do not grasp that one occupation complements the other, that they are two parts of a whole, that it is not two jobs at all, that one rests the man when the other fatigues him. The only person to feel sorry for his is wife. She practically becomes a recluse. His only fear is the source of his interest, his daily goings about among human beings of all sorts, all ages, all conditions will be terminated. That he will be found out.
Forget writing, its a trivial matter. But day in day out, when the inarticulate patient struggles to lay himself bare for you, or with nothing more than a boil on his back is so caught off balance that he reveals some secret twist of a whole community’s pathetic way of thought, a man is suddenly seized again with a desire to speak of the underground stream which for a moment has come up just under the surface.
The physician enjoys a wonderful opportunity actually to witness words being born. Their actual colors and shapes are laid before him carrying their tiny burdens.
For under that language to which we have all been listening all our lives, a new, a more profound language, underlying all the dialects offer itself. It is what they call poetry.