“Williams saw poetry in his patient’s lives.” — from Author’s Note, 16 Words, by Lisa Rogers and Chuck Groenink
Of course, I know the poem, the famous short verse about the red wheelbarrow, the rain and the white chickens. You probably do, too. What I didn’t know was who poet William Carlos Williams was — in fact, I didn’t know he was a doctor who scribbled poems on his way to patients or typed out verse in between appointments.
And I didn’t know the poem that made him most famous (along with his apology poem to his wife for eating her plumbs) was inspired by a neighbor, friend, and patient — Thaddeus Marshall — from whose window Williams saw the wheelbarrow, the rain, the chickens.
We learn all this in 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” picture book by writer Lisa Rogers and illustrator Chuck Groenink. I appreciate books about writers, and picture books in particular have a way of bringing us a bit closer to the people in focus. This book is written in beautiful minimal language (as befits the topic) and the illustrations are lovely, too, bringing us into the small community where Williams is a family doctor as he writes his poetry.
You can of course enjoy his poetry, not knowing much about him. Even Williams said he didn’t strive so much for deeper meaning but to capture the lives and world around him. We teachers may be overanalyzing his poems, but there is no doubt to his skill of minimal beauty — of the glimpses into what he saw, through short verse and descriptive language.
This picture book would be a perfect read aloud for any poetry unit, and a reminder that poets can be any of us, and all of us, if we just take time and attention to noticing what is around us.
Peace (and poems),