The American Conservative is running a symposium on great works that have been neglected. Participants inlcude David Bromwich, San Tanenhaus, Florence King, and Reason's Nick Gillespie, who writes:
Is any major American writer fading faster than William Carlos Williams, who had the bum judgment to write a five-book epic poem about Paterson, New Jersey, of all godforsaken places? Williams is best remembered, if at all, for his "red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water" and his introduction to Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, which is more than most poets, and certainly most Garden State loyalists such as myself, deserve.
But at least one Williams work deserves to be read by every American and every citizen of the world who aspires to be American or understand the place: 1925's In the American Grain, a wide-ranging collection of essays, fragments, and prose poems that challenged and exploded the very idea of national identity. Eric the Red, Ponce de Leon, the French missionary Sebastian Rasles, the Indian princess Jacataqua—they are real Americans by Williams's count, as are Poe, Lincoln, and Aaron Burr, whose antinomianism infuses our historical experiment with its greatness, peril, and often self-defeating arrogance.
"They say, they say, they say," Williams's Burr utters near the end of his life. "Those two little words have done more harm than all others. Never use them … never use them." Williams's meditation on what it meant to be living in the New World was written at the start of the American Century, but it continues to speak loud and clear to our current confusion over our place in the world.