16 Words


William Carlos Williams works as a doctor in Rutherford, New Jersey. As he attends to his patients, he contemplates the weather, various incidents, and his neighbourhood. Between visits and appointments, he creates poems on his prescription pads. Sometimes he is inspired by an incident such as eating plums saved for breakfast, as in ‘This is Just to Say‘. Possibly, he is inspired by the haste of a passing fire engine as in ‘The Great Figure’. 

In ‘16 Words’, Dr Williams establishes the pattern of life. He contemplates the essential role of a red wheelbarrow in the vegetable garden of Thaddeus Marshall, one of his patients. The barrow carries the produce grown and sold by Mr Marshall each week. In sixteen words he sums up a pattern, routine and balance of life.

Dr Williams’ poems have ‘unexpected line breaks,’ [lack] ‘capital letters’ and [leave out] ‘punctuation.’. However, his considerations of the mundanities and wealth of life are part of a great poetry lexicon.

’16 Words‘ is a magnificent book. We follow the route of the doctor, watching him treat his patients, view his world and reach out to his writing. We realise his inspiration. The gentle sepia tones, reminiscent of Emily Hughes’ work, and encouraging text, combine to create a truly memorable book to treasure.

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16 Words

William Carlos Williams & ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’

Lisa Rogers & Chuck Groenink

(Schwartz & Wade)– hardback

’16 Words’ that’s all it takes for Dr Williams to sum up the view from his patient’s window. However, it’s an evaluation of a life also. Dr Williams is William Carlos Williams of ‘This is Just to Say‘ fame, amongst other poetry. This fascinating picture book explains how this town doctor creates poetry on his prescription pages between rounds or appointments. Dr Williams ‘writes about trees, a fire engine, cats, and plums.’ 
We visit the setting of the inspiration of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow‘ about which Dr Williams writes. The barrow belongs to Thaddeus Marshall. Each day he ‘plucks ripe vegetables‘ and ‘carries them to his wheelbarrow.’ Thereafter, he ‘pushes his wheelbarrow through the streets of Rutherford‘, depending on the ‘wheelbarrow to carry the vegetables he sells to his neighbours.
As Dr Williams attends to Mr Marshall on a rainy afternoon, he contemplates the role of the wheelbarrow before creating one of his most famous poems, in sixteen words. Like Philip Gross’s Dark Sky Park, the environment inspires Dr Williams. ‘16 Words‘ brings this to life clearly, fluently and empathetically.

PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award


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