Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT October 19th 2020

At least two new people joined our group of 21 participants tonight as we gathered around a poem by William Carlos Williams. People chatted in greetings and weather reports from MA, ME, NJ, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, India and Canada, before discussing elements of the “The Artist,” noting the surprising balletic movement of Mr. T, a man in seeming disarray. We identified four people in the space of the poem – the speaker of the poem, a woman who is identified as “my mother,” the de-identified “Mr. T” and his wife. Mr. T is presented as “bareheaded in a soiled undershirt, with his hair sticking out on all sides.” Has he been wearing a hat? Has he been working, or is he known for neglecting his “toilette?” No matter: with no introduction or visible cue or musical accompaniment, he executes an entrechat bounding into the air and “whirling about” in an instant. We commented on the shape of the poem on the page: “centered” on the page and its short lines leaping. One person related this telling to a Lewis Carroll text, which she had recently read, about elderly people who perform remarkable physical feats. One participant commented that he, initially, entered the text as the woman described as an “invalid”. And then began to identify as the artist looking at that woman and deciding to perform. Before returning to what transpires in the text, we commented on the poet, William Carlos Williams, known for his practice of writing as well as his practice of medicine in Paterson, NJ.

We noticed that the poem begins in third person (describing Mr. T) before switching (whirling about) midway to first person as the speaker calls attention to “my mother” who, before exclaiming, “Bravo” is stunned into wordlessness at what Mr. T wordlessly communicates.  This brought our attention to what is given and what is received in every performance.

One participant had a strong reaction to the fourth person who makes an appearance in the poem: “[t]he man’s wife who came in from the kitchen.” She asks if the wife misses what merited applause because she has been working in the kitchen. Whatever the reason, she misses the brief beauty. In the poem, the wife’s “work” is to orient readers to space, suggesting that the action takes place indoors rather than out-of-doors as many people sensed at the beginning of the read. Other than the cry “Bravo” the wife is the only character with a spoken line. “What goes on here?” she asks before the poem ends, “But the show was over.”

            Our session was not over. Given a choice of prompts: Write about an unexpected moment of beauty or Write about a missed performance, we all wrote for four minutes. Four people read their work. One was about the camera on their iPhone being a constant companion and, yesterday, looking into the sun, being blinded by the sun, they took a leap of faith and took a photograph. There was also reflection on the possibility that a camera interferes with pure looking at moments of beauty. One participant commented on the author’s openness and expectation of finding beauty. Another noted that she had re-captured the image in words. The second reader had written about a walk in the woods in search of autumn leaves falling and leaving their impression on the ground. This piece contains dialog between two hikers, about which trail to take, when coming upon markers. The authors of these first two readings both shared the images they had caught on camera.

The third reading was a reflection on missing a performance: parents’ performance that led to conception. There was much amusement and also some discomfort, as participants contemplated or avoided contemplating their own beginnings.

The fourth and final reading, this evening, sounds like a play or film with two residents in a nursing home talking about the images one of them sees on the wall of their room.

Thank you everyone for bringing so much to the discussion of text and for sharing your prompted writing.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, October 21st at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

The Artist by William Carlos Williams

Mr. T.
                    in a soiled undershirt
his hair standing out
          on all sides
                    stood on his toes
heels together
           arms gracefully
                    for the moment
curled above his head.
            Then he whirled about
into the air
             and with an entrechat
                     perfectly achieved
completed the figure.
             My mother
                     taken by surprise
where she sat
             in her invalid’s chair
                      was left speechless.
Bravo! she cried at last
             and clapped her hands.
                       The man’s wife
came from the kitchen:
            What goes on here? she said.
                        But the show was over.