Nov. 8, 2005

The Wildest Word

by June Robertson Beisch

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem:"The Wildest Word" by June Robertson Beisch from Fatherless Woman.© Cape Cod Literary Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Wildest Word

The Benedictines had it, they knew
           the joys of silence, the illuminating of
                      manuscripts, the careful diffusion of

The pleasures of abstinence.

Get to a point where you can deny yourself anything
           and then you are halfway there, some say.
                      And poems are made
                                 of love not made.

Emily Dickinson refused
           the offered touch and reveled in her own
                      self abnegation. "The wildest word
                                 consigned to man is No," she wrote.

"You love me best when I refuse."

           "Imagined love is better than the real,
                      and occupies the highest branch of Eden's tree,"
                                 wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay.

"Like fallen fruit, lived love is cheap."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1864 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his second term as President of the United States, an election that helped ensure the preservation of the Union. It was one of the only times in history that an election was held by a nation in the middle of a civil war.

Lincoln had a lot of reasons to worry the election might not go his way. The summer before the election, most Americans were weary of war, and calls to end the conflict were becoming louder and louder. Then, at the beginning of July, 1864, Lincoln was confronted with the embarrassment of a Confederate battalion trying to invade and capture Washington D.C. itself. The Confederates were driven off but not captured, and everyone who knew Lincoln at the time said he was in a terrible mood for the rest of the month.

In August, Lincoln announced that he would only negotiate peace with the Southern states if they reintegrated with the Union and if they abandoned slavery. This was the most radical position he'd taken on slavery yet, and it was so controversial that he began to lose support among his few allies in the Democratic Party, as well as members of his own Republican Party. There was talk that the Republican Party might try to nominate someone else. Lincoln worried that he'd made a terrible mistake, and so he didn't say anything else about slavery for the rest of the campaign.

The war continued to go badly. On July 30, 4000 Union soldiers were killed in a disastrous attempt to invade Petersburg, Virginia. The army needed 500,000 more soldiers, Lincoln would probably have to call for another draft, and the war debt was becoming unsustainable. Even moderate Republicans began to criticize the president's policies. On August 23, Lincoln wrote a memorandum to his cabinet that said, "This morning, and for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected."

The Democratic Party held their nominating convention in the last days of August, and they chose to run on a platform of ending hostilities with the Confederate States. This turned out to be a huge mistake when, on September 4th, General Sherman announced that his army had captured Atlanta. At the same time, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut announced that he had captured Mobile, Alabama, the last major Gulf port in Confederate hands.

Suddenly, the Democratic Party looked like the party of surrender when the Union was on the verge of winning the war. In the end, Lincoln carried every state except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.

It's the birthday of Bram Stoker, born in Dublin, Ireland (1847). He was working as a clerk for the civil service when he saw an unknown actor named Henry Irving in a play that changed his life. He became obsessed with Irving's acting career, and began writing freelance reviews of every play in which Irving appeared. Eventually, Irving became one of the most famous Shakespearian actors of the era, and he invited Bram Stoker to be his manager at the Lyceum Theater in London.

One night, in 1890, Stoker dreamt that a woman was trying to kiss him on the throat, and an elderly Count interrupted her shouting, "This man belongs to me!" Stoker woke up and immediately wrote about the dream in his diary. He couldn't get it out of his mind for weeks, and kept wondering who the Count might be. And that was the beginning of his novel Dracula (1897).

Dracula only became a minor best-seller in Stoker's lifetime. When he died in 1912, the obituaries about Stoker focused on his career in theater, and not a single one mentioned his authorship of Dracula. It wasn't until 1922, when Dracula movies started to appear, that people realized Bram Stoker had created one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time. Since then, some version of Dracula has appeared in more than 250 movies.

It's the birthday of the author of Gone with the Wind (1936), Margaret Mitchell, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1900). She was an independent and controversial young lady. The Atlanta Junior League rejected her application for membership because she'd once performed a risqué dance at a debutante ball. She married a wild bootlegger named Red Upshaw, who later became the basis of the character Rhett Butler, but when he turned violent she divorced him and married his best friend.

She got a job as a reporter, and wrote a series of stories about Georgia women who'd broken conventions, including a woman who'd disguised herself as a man to fight in the Civil War. In 1926, Mitchell injured her ankle, which forced her to quit her job as a reporter, and that was when she began writing Gone with the Wind (1936).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show