Fred Beake to Karlien van den Beukel
Composition date of Kora is confusing. The original foreword is dated sept
1st 1918, which would make it a First World War piece, rather than post War
as per the 1920 publication date usually quoted. I don't know of a lot of
evidence beyond what is in the original foreword, and I Wanted to Write A
Poem (about forty years later), that would define Williams intentions
(though possibly there may be things in Paul Mariani's 1981 life, or the
letters, neither of which I have to hand).
Personally I see Kora as a moment of break through between the effective
but rather derived free verse he had used to that point, and the much more
personal structures of Spring and All (and after). He was seeing what
happened if he forgot every rule that he had ever known, whether from
Whitman and Keats, or Pound and H.D., and just wrote what came out of him.
I don't know if actual dance was an inspiration. Certainly however there
are two clear bits in the 1918 Foreword that suggest he was thinking about
improvised dance. "...a poem is tough by no quality it borrows from a
logical recital of events nor from the events themselves, but solely from
that attenuated power which draws perhaps many broken things into a dance
giving them thus a full being" (P17 macGibbon and Key 1970 edition of
Imaginations).) And (p18/19) "All is confusion, yet it comes with a hidden
desire for the dance, a lust of the imagination, a will to accord two
instruments in a duet."
Tim Love's full comments can be found in Acumen 29, P 30-35. While I wrote
in reply ( I felt he ignored the medieval and classical traditions, which
was why he came to the conclusion, that traditional forms are moribund)
I think he put his case forcefully and well.
His actual comments about Kora are brief (p34) "In the States many
twentieth century poets have tried doing without the linebreaks. W.C.
Williams' early attempts (in Kora in Hell: Improvisations, 1920) opened the
way for others. ...".
My own reaction to that was that WCW quite clearly reacted against his own
reaction, and returned to highly controlled line breaks, and I wondered
why. This is a subject on which it would be interesting to hear other
people's views, but mine are as follows.
Kora goes where ever it wants, and is unashamedly a poem of the internal
Imagination. Williams comes home late at night, and writes whatever is in
his head. Rather like a budhist meditating, I remember thinking when I was
young, but in reality his interaction with modern Art was probably the real
source. At all events the 1918 foreword shows interest in Kandinsky,
Duchamp, Arensberg. And there is something of Kandinsky's improvised
abstracts. I can't prove it, but I think it was also a direct reaction to
WWI's disintegration of the World Order.
However as a process for a lifetime's work Kora is flawed. 1. It is prose,
very good prose often, but prose none the less, and if (as Williams did)
you know what can be done with the chanted patterns of Keats etc, the
reaction must be to make a new system that will sing as well as the old.
One could argue Williams spent the rest of his life doing just that.
Secondly however something must have made Williams move back towards
external reality as a basis for his art. Arguably for this he needed
something to frame the poem, rather than Kora'a free flow.
I suppose my conclusion is that Williams' post Kora system genuinely
produces cadences/sounds that are not prose, but develop the older systems
into something new, whereas Kora's free-flowing prose form, is of use only
The prose poem works (when it works!) because it succeeds in riding a tide,
rather than being the tide. Arguably the best ones were French (Char say)
because French abandoned rhetoric late and therefore there is structure.
Anyway, enough on this...