In my article, I examine the relationship between the work of William Carlos Williams and John Dewey’s Art as Experience (1934) and show how their shared concerns create links to post-Second World War performance artists such as Laurie Anderson, the theatrical storyteller Spalding Gray, as well as Happenings master Allan Kaprow. I examine Williams’s impact on what is regarded as early postmodernism in the United States, by tracing Williams connections to Objectivists such as Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen from the 1930s and other culture workers who display what I call a “performative ethos” indebted to John Dewey. I contextualize poetry in relation to everyday experience, but also focus on the semantics of form, in which form emerges through exigencies of a work’s creation. Context and experience produce organic forms, as in the writings of Black Mountain and West Coast poets such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, each of whom emphasized breath groups and the visual “field” of the page when imagining a prosody that was structural, but antithetical to accentual syllabic verse. Like performance artists who followed in his wake, I argue that Williams challenged readers to co-create texts to re-evaluate experience as art and art as experience.

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