In this article I approach William Carlos Williams’s poetry in the context of international modernism with special emphasis on Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian abstract painter and theorist of the relation of color to spirit. What Williams found in Kandinsky, I argue, are qualities of liberation and spontaneous laughter as a response to pleasure at desublimating repressed desires for a visual mediation that signaled a break with the past and an embrace of the new. In Kandinsky, Williams embraced an artist for whom color was an expressive dimension that connoted harmony, emotion, eroticism, or spirituality. Kandinsky’s art, for Williams, conveyed properties of an open text that left room for creative reception. I argue that Williams followed Kandinsky’s lead in creating hybrid methods that blended the verbal, the visual, and the sonicm, and trace Kandinsky’s influence on works such as the improvisational Kora in Hell, Spring and All, and the Great American Novel, all of which challenge traditional ideas of genre. By tracing a connection to Kandinsky through the work of Williams’s close friend Marsden Hartley, I argue that we can see the initial ways that Williams synthesized his local interests with the growing trend towards abstraction. I conclude that Williams’s interest in abstract art, however, did not end with Kandinsky, as Williams appreciated the work of the later American movement known as Abstract Expressionism and interpreted their work as a continuation of earlier modernist goals.

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