I might never have studied medicine were it not for the example of Dr. Williams. At age fifteen I saw a televised documentary about him which included interviews and a scene filmed in his office with crying babies in the waiting room and Williams banging out a few lines of poetry in between patients on the typewriter which he then slammed abruptly back into his desk. His typewriter was mounted on a spring-loaded shelf which hid it in the desk; not an uncommon device in the 1950’s. Having hidden the typewriter he called in his next patient. I have carried that image with me throughout my life. It has given me hope that one could develop as an artist amid the controlled chaos of a generalist clinician’s life.
I don’t mean to elevate myself to Williams’ level, but only to say that he provided an example for me: that medicine could nourish the artist if the medical life was kept under some internal control. His act of slamming the typewriter away, with a definite element of irritation at having his train of thought as a poet interrupted, and then recovering his demeanor as a doctor, so as to not transmit his irritation to his patient, provides an image I have carried with me now for some fifty years. A concrete example of what the physician-artist must do. (A thing; an image. “No ideas but in things”….)
When in 2007 I gave myself a nine-month sabbatical from medicine to do some writing for orchestra, I produced a work for orchestra and piano which I think of as a musical response to Williams’ epic poem, “Paterson”. My work, also titled “Paterson”, is not a piano concerto. There is no dramatic battle between the solo instrument and the orchestra. The piano is more of a narrator in the sense of Greek drama, and of course following the example of Williams’ poem; the piano, the man and the orchestra, the city.