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University at Buffalo Libraries

The Poetry Collection

Williams (William Carlos) Collection, 1902-1960



William Carlos Williams was one of the first poets Charles Abbott visited to ask for manuscript contributions to "The Poetry Project." After the first visit a friendship developed which brought Williams and his wife, Floss, to the Buffalo area many times. Portions of ten summers during the 1940s and 1950s were spent at Linwood, New York, where Abbott lived in a gracious country home overlooking the Genesee Valley. During those years Williams donated letters and manuscripts, working drafts of numerous poems, notes and other materials, until the total amount came to about 20,000 pieces of paper covering the years 1920 through the 1950s.

The great bulk of the manuscripts are drafts of poems on Williams' favorite fold-up typewriter, which along with his writing desk is housed in The Poetry Collection. Typically, a second and third draft follows the first. Often poems originally written on Williams' prescription pad precede the typed versions. For some poems there are as many as five complete drafts. The poem, "The Clouds," follows this pattern and provides an excellent opportunity to study the variations in rhythm, cadence, and wording that Williams was so sensitive to in his poetry. There are also many fragmentary notes and sections of poems that made up the material destined to be published as the individual books of Paterson (1946-1951). The working materials for Books I and II are in the Williams Collection at Buffalo, while those for Books III-IV are in the Beinecke Library of Yale University. The working papers for the volume, The Wedge, published in 1944 by the Cummington Press, contain the fullest manuscript record of an individual book of poems. There are also early fragments, a working journal, and several drafts for the plays A Dream of Love (1948) and Many Loves (1942). Supplementing these documents are over 1200 letters, preserving Williams' correspondence to and from people like Charles Abbott, James Laughlin, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and Louis Zukofsky. These make it possible to understand Williams' relationships with his peers in poetry and to follow his evolving aesthetics. Unpublished material and material that was published in different forms appear among the papers. In 1982, the letters of Williams to his son, William Eric Williams, were added to the collection.

The Williams Collection also includes a complete set of first editions of all his books, including one of the thirteen known copies of Poems (1909), signed by the poet. Every book of criticism about Williams is also present, and with the magazines and critical journals, form a very rich resource for literary research, Scholars have come from all over North America and Europe--even from New Zealand and South Africa--to use the collection. As the new and enlarged editions of Williams' works are prepared, and the reassessments of the poems begin, the collection will continue to provide scholars with the basic materials for their research. The manuscripts and letters are accessible through Neil Baldwin and Steven L. Meyers' The Manuscripts and Letters of William Carlos Williams in the Poetry Collection of the Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York at Buffalo: A Descriptive Catalogue (1978).