FOR MANY years, Rutherford native William Carlos Williams practiced medicine and wrote poetry. It is hard to say how much one may have influenced the other, but the historical record, at least as it speaks to us in the written word, shows that it was a productive collaboration.
Fittingly, Williams' vast talents are being recognized next year, with nine other American poets, in a postage stamp collection being issued by the United States Postal Service. We can think of no more deserving recipient.
For Williams, who in his role as physician must have observed so much about the daily struggles of life and death in North Jersey, penned a uniquely American form of poetry. In essence, Williams wrote what he saw, and he saw plenty. He saw poetry in the everyday: the subtle possibilities of a red wheelbarrow in the rain, the not-so-subtle seductions of Queen Anne's lace.
Of course, Williams, also an essayist and prolific letter writer, is best known for his epic poem, "Paterson," which appeared in five separate volumes from 1946 to 1958. In 1963, the year he died, Williams' collection "Pictures From Brueghel" won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Now, nearly 50 years after his death comes this new honor, being part of a postage stamp memoriam to be released next March. The photograph of Williams used in the collection was taken in the 1940s. Other poets honored include Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath.
Thanks must go to photographer and historian William Neumann of Rutherford, a longtime Williams admirer, who nominated the poet for the stamp and gathered support from local legislators and literary groups. "He spoke to people directly through his poetry, and he was a tremendous letter writer, so I thought it was appropriate," Neumann told The Record.
As far as New Jersey is concerned, Williams might be fairly seen as that creative bridge between the original American poet, Walt Whitman, and the counterculture genius, Allen Ginsberg. Williams' poetry was informed by the gritty, diverse and working class people and landscapes of Paterson and beyond. Its themes are universal, its origins undeniably American.