Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2004


Growing up in Rutherford, New Jersey, in the 1940s, Robert Smithson would periodically visit his pediatrician, William Carlos Williams, who had his home and medical practice across town at Nine Ridge Road. There were, no doubt, the routine checkups, the childhood ailments and inoculations, the doctor looking into the mouth, the ears, the eyes of the little boy. Many years later, in 1958—Williams by then retired and Smithson a young artist—they would once again meet informally at the poet’s home.1 Nearing the end of his long life, Williams—no longer practicing medicine—was nonetheless still very much practicing poetry, laboring away at his never‐ending Paterson, the epic, multivolume poem of the nearby city begun decades earlier. The young Smithson, on the other hand, was at the beginning of what would be his unforeseeably short life. From this visit, Smithson reported (as if he were the one now examining the patient) that Williams, having recently suffered several strokes, “was in pretty bad shape at that time, he was kind of palsied.”2 On that day, however, Williams was to recall with pleasure the Smithson family, delighted to see that the little boy he remembered had come by to visit, that he had returned as an artist.


Originally published in Critical Inquiry 30: 3 (Spring 2004): 627-653.