Poet or Pundit? The Story of The Stranglers and The Wranglers

“The genius of a composer is found in the notes of his music; but analyzing the notes will not reveal his genius. The poet’s greatness is contained in his words; yet the study of his words will not disclose his inspiration. God reveals himself in creation; but scrutinize creation as minutely as you wish, you will not find God, any more than you will find the soul through careful examination of your body.” ~ Anthony de Mello

Years ago, at the University of Wisconsin, there was a group of brilliant young men known as “The Stranglers” who were teeming with literary talent. An eclectic group of would-be poets, novelists, and essayists, they were bound and determined to put the English language to its best use and met regularly to critique each others’ work.

It was these sessions that ultimately gave them their name. The literary criticism they practiced was legendary across campus. They would dissect the most minute expression into a hundred pieces, examining it from all sides, ruthless in their pursuit of excellence, brutal in their breakdown of the most beautiful passages.

Not to be outdone, the women of literary talent in the university determined to start a club of their own, one comparable to The Stranglers, yet also decisively unique. In an obvious shout-out/challenge, they called themselves “The Wranglers”, and they too read their works to one another — but there was one great difference. Their brand of criticism was much softer — more positive, more encouraging. Sometimes, there was barely any criticism at all. Every effort, even the most feeble, was encouraged.

Twenty years later an alumnus of the university was doing an exhaustive study of his classmates’ careers when he noticed a vast difference in the literary accomplishments of The Stranglers as opposed to The Wranglers. Of all the bright young men in The Stranglers, not one had made a significant literary accomplishment of any kind. From The Wranglers, however, had come six or more successful writers, some of national renown such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote The Yearling.

Talent between the two? Probably the same. Level of education? Not much difference. But the Stranglers strangled, while the Wranglers were determined to give each other a lift. The Stranglers promoted an atmosphere of contention and self-doubt. The Wranglers highlighted the best, not the worst.

Source: A popular anecdote found in numerous short story collections. Its veracity remains unknown.