The website Jezebel, of all places, recently posted an interesting item about the afterlife of William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “This is Just to Say” — especially as it has been reworked and spoofed on Twitter in recent years.
The piece notes that the deceptively simple poem, written in 1934, went on to become “a Big Fucking Deal, and almost 80 years later, it found a second life – this time, on social media.” It has become, according to This American Life, the “most spoofed poem around.”
The Jezebel piece notes that Twitter has been especially fond of tweaking and remixing the form of “This is Just to Say”: “people have endlessly broken the poem down and repurposed it for their own jokes and commentary.”
I’m glad to see some attention to this great poem in such a visible space and some of the examples they give are amusing. I just wish the piece had mentioned the most famous, and arguably the best, parody and spoof of the Williams poem — Kenneth Koch’s “Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams,” which appeared in his book Thank You and Other Poems in 1962.
Koch’s hilarious parody — which I always use when teaching the WCW poem — consists of four increasingly absurd riffs on the original poem’s faux-apology and implicit self-congratulation. Koch adored Williams’s work, but his parody brilliantly exposes (in David Lehman’s words) “(1) the aggression latent in Williams’ seemingly benign poem, where the speaker cannot really be said to be contrite, and thus, (2) the attractions of what can be called the insincere apology as a rhetorical gesture or form.”
Koch’s version begins:
I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.
We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.
I guess this is just to say that the Jezebel piece reminded me that Kenneth Koch was remixing and spoofing Williams almost 50 years before anyone ever dreamt of Twitter.