Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy Birthday William Stafford!

Thank you, Garrison Keillor, Writer's Almanac, and Public Radio for this divine information! William Stafford poetry has saved my life, moved my life, invited me to stay-put-in-my-life, and love in ways that I never knew possible. I am thankful to William Stafford and the Universe that created this man, this poet, this kind of prophet. Join me in celebrating his birth! Read a poem or two of his and breathe deeply.

I've copied one of my favorites below the bio: "A Ritual to Read to Each Other."


It's the birthday of poet William Edgar Stafford, born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914, the same year as American poets Weldon Kees and Randall Jarrell and John Berryman. Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987).

Stafford received a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Kansas at Lawrence and, in 1954, a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. During the Second World War, he was a conscientious objector. He refused to be inducted into the U. S. Army. From 1940-1944 he was interned as a pacifist in civilian public service camps in Arkansas and California where he fought fires and built roads. He wrote about the experience in the 94-page prose memoir Down In My Heart (1947), which opens with the question, "When are men dangerous?"

In 1948 Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), was published when Stafford was 48. It won the National Book Award for poetry in 1963. He said, "At the moment of writing... the poet does sometimes feel that he is accomplishing an exhilarating, a wonderful, a stupendous job; he glimpses at such times how it might be to overwhelm the universe by rightness, to do something peculiarly difficult to such a perfection that something like a revelation comes. For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things."

Stafford usually wrote in the early morning. He sat down with a pen and paper, took a look out the window, and waited for something to occur to him. He wrote about simple things like farms and dead deer and winter. He wrote about the West and his parents and cottonwood trees. He wrote, "In the winter, in the dark hours, when others / were asleep, I found these words and put them / together by their appetites and respect for / each other. In stillness, they jostled. They traded / meanings while pretending to have only one."

Stafford served as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1970, a post now designated "American Poet Laureate." He published more than 65 volumes of poetry and prose. He was a professor of English at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon, until his retirement in 1990. He died on August 28, 1993 at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon. About his own works, Stafford once commented, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."


A Ritual to Read to Each Other
by William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems © Graywolf Press.
Reprinted with permission.

If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world

and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood

storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,

but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe—

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

1 comment:

Enid Cederlind said...

Thanks! How wonderful it would be if world leaders would take this to heart!

I feel half of the problems we have in this world is that nobody is willing to consider the other person's perspective before striking out at them. Violence is their answer instead of meaningful discussion.