William Carlos Williams and the short story

williams Being succinct is often more difficult than being lofty. This is the realm of the short story writer; for the task of such an author is to come full circle; to satiate with a satisfying balance of beginning, middle, and end… all the while maintaining a full and open throttle…driving the plot in a degree that it sustains the interest of the reader while not diverging off course. Take no side trips, no matter how lovely a place they could lead you, for the short story is like the plane on a scheduled fight…we don’t wish the pilot to deviate from the flight plan.

And so I must confess that this blogger likes to read and write the short story even though it sometimes appears to have lost its momentum in the 21st century… yet I maintain that it is still alive and kicking…you just have to go into the gardens and weed them out…

Which brings us to today’s post where a path was cleared away again for our esteemed thinker: William Carlos Williams; poet, writer and defender of the modern literature and art movement in the 20th century. From his notes so aptly titled A Beginning on the Short Story, I have plucked from his writing a portion for us to ponder. I give you, Mr. Williams and the short story…

“… One chief advantage as against a novel- which is its nearest cousin-is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel on writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing. On the process itself. A single stroke, uncomplicated but complete. Not like a chapter or paragraph. Thus bearing a possible novel in mind, if you will, you can play with words as materials. You can try various modes of writing-more freely.Try all sorts of effects. The short story is a wonderful medium for prose experimentation. You may, economically try devices- varied devices-for making the word count toward a particular effect. … And be careful not to imitate yourself-like how many others. Remember: the imagination! The short story has all the elements of a larger work-but in petto. Dash off a story in an evening- any old way, try to follow the action of some characters you can imagine. Sit down blind and start to fling the words around like pigments-try to see what nature would do under the same circumstances –let ’em go and (without thinking or caring) see where they’ll lead you. You may be surprised-you may even end up as a disciplined writer…”

Esteemed thinker: Willliam Carlos Williams

cave If we were posed with the question of” who is considered to be the first artist” we may find a multitude of diverse answers. For we would have to ask ourselves, what are we defining as “art”. For the sake of continuity, let me suggest that perhaps the walls of the El Castillo Cave in Cantabria, Spain served as the first canvas a mere 40,000 years ago. And then there are the very famous Lascaux Caves in France which host the wall drawings of horses, human figures, and abstract signs that we are quite familiar with… Maybe these prehistoric galleries are samples of our first graffiti artists. Alas, I would have to say “no” to the latter since the only means of a platform to draw upon were the cave walls…for all other natural elements such as bark would have disintegrated…and unlike materials for today’s artist … there was no paper, cloth, or even papyrus.

So, what is a work of art? We all have our own opinion, which varies in styles and individual favorites with the same degree of assortment as the changes in weather; and if you rather not trouble yourself with a personal constitution defining what makes up “a work of art” … there is always the critic that does… and will surely bestow their “expert” opinion.

So, to help us weed through some ideas regarding art, I bring to you today’s esteemed thinker: William Carlos Williams (1883 -1963), medical doctor and writer who influenced modern 20th century poetry with his unconventional approach to imagery, “lack of form”, and the use of the “American language”. Williams was considered a modernist in his style; writing a prolific body of work that included essays about literature, music, and painters. He contributed to literary magazines and was a highly sought after lecturer. In 1963 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Pictures from Brueghel.

william carlos williams Let us pause today for Mr. Williams and read from his Selected Essays (1931), “Against the Weather: A Study of the Artist”…taking note of his honest approach with the subject…and when you are finished you may contemplate the caves…is it indeed art?

“… I’ve been writing a sentence, with all the art I can muster. Here it is: A work of art is important only as evidence, in its structure, of a new world which it has been created to affirm.
Let me explain.
A life that is here and now is timeless. That is the universal I am seeking: to embody that in a work of art, a new world that is always “real”.
All things otherwise grow old and rot. By long experience the only thing that remains unchanged and unchangeable is the work of art. It is because of the element of timelessness in it, its sensuality. The only world that exists is the world of the senses. The world of the artist… That is the artist’s work. He might well be working at it during a bombardment, for the bombardment will stop. After a while they will run out of bombs. Then they will need something to fall back on: today. Only the artist can invent it. Without today everything would be lost and they would have to start bombing again as they always do, to hide the lack. If the artist can finish before the attack is over it will be lucky. He is the most important artisan they have.
The work an artist has to do is the most important creation of civilization. It is also its creator…”