The History of Literature #176 – William Carlos Williams (“The Use of Force”)

LOGO-COVERS

Today, the American modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is famous among poetry fans for his vivid, economical poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” But for most of his lifetime, he struggled to achieve success comparable to those of his contemporaries Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Toiling away as a physician in working-class neighborhoods in New Jersey, Williams tried to write poems and short stories whenever he could, often typing for a few minutes in between patient visits. In this episode of The History of Literature, Jacke and Mike take a look at Williams’s incredible short story “The Use of Force,” in which a physician wrestles with a young patient determined to preserve her secret at all costs.

NOTE: This is another self-contained episode of The History of Literature! We read the story for you – no need to read it yourself first (unless you want to!).

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature or historyofliterature.com/shop. (We appreciate it!) Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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History of Literature Podcast #63 – Books I Have Loved (with Charles Baxter)

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In this special episode, the revered American author Charles Baxter joins Jacke to discuss some of his favorite books, including works by Anton Chekhov, Saul Bellow, James Wright, and Paula Fox.

“Charles Baxter’s stories have reminded me of how broad and deep and shining a story can be, and I am grateful.” — Alice Munro 

CHARLES BAXTER is the author of the novels The Feast of Love(nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collectionsGryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, andHarmony of the World.  The stories “Bravery” and “Charity,” which appear in There’s Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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Works Discussed:

Collected Poems by James Wright

Herzog, Henderson the Rain King, and Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Desperate Characters and The Widow’s Children by Paula Fox

Selected Stories by Anton Chekhov

Show Notes: 

We have a special episode coming up – listener feedback! Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Check out our Facebook page at facebook.com/historyofliterature.

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Sweet Vermouth” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

The History of Literature #49 – MFA Programs (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)

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For decades, the Master of Fine Arts degree has quietly dominated the American literary scene. There are now over 100 programs where professors and students go about the business of turning dreams into fiction through the alchemy – or as some would say, the meatgrinder – known as the writing workshop. It’s a phenomenon like no other in the history of literature. What goes on at these MFA programs? What good comes out of them? And what impact are they having on contemporary American literature? The President of the Literature Supporters Club joins Jacke for a discussion of MFA programs.

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Show Notes: 

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

Scenes from a Marriage (A Jacke Wilson Objectino)

Back by popular demand… it’s an Objectino! This time, a scene from a marriage….

A JACKE WILSON OBJECTINO*

HIM: Okay, I think I’ll head out to the dentist’s office.

HER: Already? Your appointment’s not for twenty minutes. It takes ten minutes to get there.

HIM: Well, by the time I park, get checked in…

HER: You could wait here five minutes and still make it in plenty of time.

HIM: Why would I wait here? I’m ready to go. Maybe they can take me early, and I can just get on with my day. What if I hit traffic or something?

HER: You just don’t want to sit here and try to relax, do you? Because then you’d think about yourself. And how much you hate yourself. That would be five minutes of torture, wouldn’t it?

HIM: Maybe I’ll have car trouble. Maybe their parking lot will be under construction…

HER: Maybe you’ll never have to spend five minutes alone with your own thoughts. Ever again.

HIM: WELL IF I LEAVE NOW IT’S A POSSIBILITY!!!!


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Greatest First Lines Ever – Contest Update!

Wow, the contest to win a free book by telling me your favorite first line is going really well. Thanks to everyone for your comments, emails, voicemails, and speakpipe recordings. The entries are fabulous, especially the ones I get to hear read in your own voice. And at the end I get to give away books – another great pleasure. Keep ’em coming, folks! You’re really making my week fun.

Check out the previous post for more rules and guidelines. But the nutshell version is this: there are very few rules. Just give my special Jacke Wilson hotline a call (it’s a regular call, don’t worry) at

1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766)

Or just leave your entry in the comments.

You can also email me at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or follow the speakpipe instructions here to just click a button and talk at your computer for a few seconds. No strings attached!

I may pick your entry to read on a future podcast dedicated to great first lines. And of all the entries, I will pick one to win a free book of your choice. Or maybe more than one, because how can I ever choose?

Good luck!

And now… put on some headphones… sit back… and let this one wash over you…. onward and upward, people. Onward and upward…

A Contest! Tell Me Your Favorite First Line and Win a Free Book

Here we go! We’ve spent enough time agonizing over whether Literature Is Dying. Let’s put that on hold for now. Instead, let’s celebrate the greatest geniuses and most powerful books we can imagine. And let’s do that by focusing on the Greatest First Lines of all time.

What’s the criteria for a great first line? It’s up to you! It could be the line that inspired you in some way, the one you admire, the one that intrigued you, the one that pulled you into a narrative, or simply the one that kicked off what turned out to be your favorite book of all time.

Those are the rules for you: there are no real rules. Just your favorite first line. (Yes, it can be more than one sentence if that’s the best way to make your case..)

And here are the rules for me: I will select one lucky winner (or maybe a few) to receive a free book from me, Jacke Wilson. And no, it’s not one of my books (available now!), but a book of your choice.

How do you enter? You have four options.

Option #1: You can send me an email at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com. Pretty easy! I will keep all your personal information private, of course.

Option #2: You can leave a comment below. Just type in your favorite first line(s). Simple!

Option #3 (preferred). Call the Jacke Wilson hotline and leave a message with the answering service. Why is this preferred? Why will these entries have a slight advantage over the others?  Because I will actually get to hear your voice reading your favorite line. How cool is that!

Look, I’m a sentimental sort of person. I try not to be, but I am. And I think there’s something beautiful about a person’s voice when he or she is saying something out of unselfish enthusiasm. Sharing a favorite first line for no other reason than because it was your favorite – well, that counts. Please do call – I will appreciate it!

I might also use the clip on my podcast as I discuss the contest and its results. But don’t worry, I don’t see your number or name or anything like that. I just get to listen to the message. This is to help us all celebrate literature and to possibly win a free book. No strings, I promise.

The number to call is

1-361-4WILSON
(1-361-494-5766)

Just call me up, tell me the book and author (if you want), your first name (if you want), and the first lines (if you want – but really, why would you be calling if you didn’t want to do at least that? Well, maybe you have some other idea. But it’s your phone call, so do whatever you want!)

For option #4 (also preferred), there is no phone required. All you do is visit the page below – there are no gimmicks or signups, I promise. All you do is click a button and record a message. (You do need to have a microphone, but the built-in one in your computer or phone or tablet should work fine.)

Leave Jacke A Message

You get 90 seconds to identify the book and/or yourself (if you want etc.) and read your favorite first line. I’ve tried this out and it works great. Again, this is a preferred method because I get to hear your voice. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do, so rich and expressive. I can’t wait to listen.

I’m not going to contact you in any way unless you’re the winner. I’ll be sending you the free book of your choice via Amazon. If you prefer not to use Amazon, we’ll work something else out.

Okay, there you go. Four good options. Let’s hear some favorites!

Onward and upward!

The Cane (A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #32)

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He was of average height and build, with blond hair and a disconcerting smile: his mouth expanded, his teeth flashed white, but his eyes expressed no joy or excitement. At best they looked nervous and slightly desperate, like those of an animal caught in a trap. At worst they looked dulled over, like the animal resigned to its fate, seconds from death.

With magnanimity I confessed that I hadn’t yet learned his name.

“It’s Kyle,” he said.

I probed for the last name in the time-honored way. “Kyle…?”

Kyle,” he repeated. His dead-eyed smile sprawled across his face.

“Okay. And you’re the one with the roommate who…?”

“I’m sorry about that, Mr. Wilson. I won’t be late again. My dad was angry, but I told my mom what you said about plugging in my alarm clock even though it has batteries and she said you were completely right. I just didn’t know.”

He looked so crestfallen I apologized for not having cared more, though frankly my heart wasn’t really in it.

“…and I’m sorry your father was angry at you,” I concluded.

“He wasn’t angry at me, Mr. Wilson.”

“Okay, then. Well, what can I–”

“He was angry at you.”

I tried to hide my irritation. Angry at me? Because his kid hadn’t managed to come to class on time? Would excusing the tardiness have been fair to the students who had gotten up when they should have, and who had spent twenty-five minutes in an active discussion that Kyle had missed?

Already I wanted Kyle to leave my office. “What brings you here, Kyle?”

He smiled nervously and said that he would be presenting on Friday. Since he was the first one to present, he wondered if I could tell him what the grade would be based on.

“Effectiveness,” I said grandly. “You have to be able to identify the important points and convey them to your fellow classmates. But don’t worry. I’ll be there to make sure things stay on track.”

“Are we graded on creativity? You said we should be creative.”

“Absolutely!” I said. “The best presentations are the ones with energy. Teaching’s not as easy as it looks, you know, especially on a Friday morning on a campus where the parties begin on Thursday nights. Not all students have learned the trick of plugging in their alarm clock.”

This was meant as an olive branch, but he only nodded seriously. I sensed that he was a little dull, and that he knew that this was one of his weaknesses. Something he would have to overcome.

“Have fun with this,” I said. “Surprise me.”

#

On Friday I launched into some preliminaries to warm up the class. I previewed the Michael Pollan essay we would be discussing on Monday. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle. I didn’t want to stare at him, but he didn’t look too good. He looked gray.

Oh, great. A kid with stage fright for the very first one. Well, this will be good for him. He’ll need to be able to speak in public to advance in this life.

I wrapped up my introductory remarks and turned the floor over to Kyle.

“Kyle’s not here,” a creaky voice said.

I blinked and stared. Kyle had spoken, but it did not sound like him.

“Kyle…?” I said carefully. “Kyle, it’s time for you to…”

As my words trailed off, Kyle finally rose from his desk. He was wearing a robe and holding a plastic pipe. He had some kind of powder in his hair. He shuffled to the front of the room, using a cane for support.

I thought he might have lost his mind.

“Um…okay, everyone, Kyle’s presenting today—the topic is semi-colons, I think.”

“Kyle’s not here!” Kyle said sharply. He had adopted a high-pitched, quavering, old-man’s voice. Air whistled through his teeth as he feigned anger. Continue reading