1914 – 1993
Writing is a reckless encounter with whatever comes along.
Writers have many things to be careful not to know – and strangely one of the things not to know is how to write.
Poems don’t just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves. A good rule is – don’t respond unless you have to. But when you find you do have a response – trust it. It has a meaning.
There is a dream going on while I am awake. When I die, the dream is the only thing left. It balloons and fills the world.
William Stafford wasn’t my father. But he could have been. I think that would be pleasing. Maybe I’ll try. Father, is that you? Here I am. I know you’re in another room. far far. But here I am. Still. For now.
I recognized you immediately. Even though we never met. It was like water on a mountainside. Doubts were no more an obstacle. Just something over which to spread my arms. Whatsoever you did, I wanted to know more about the what and how of being you. Surely, something was right. I could feel the burnt match, hot and true between my fingertips.
Or that war. A long time ago. You said, no. No, I’ve somewhere else to be. So you did. I think they thought it was some punishment, forcing their hand over you. But the jest. They just made a gathering of like-minded friends. You used a shovel, it was hot, cleared some brush. But all the while poems were being born. Much later I discovered – me too, along that path.
so now, dear Bill, I write. half because of god. half because of you. all these years given to mowing the lawn for you dad, but still, not even half so much a writer as you. but you always said, OK. so I’m taking you at your word.
there was a book. your signature. not important for a scrawl of ink. rather that knowing your hand was there. right there, where my own hand is now.
a small mirror of two realities.
so, if I could, I’d talk with you. meanwhile I hope you’ll take this letter here.
William Stafford, a poet and pacifist. One of “the quiet of the land”, as he often described himself, known for his unique method of composition, his soft-spoken voice and his independence from social and literary expectations.
Born and mostly educated in Kansas. As a registered conscientious objector, he performed alternative service from 1942 to 1946 in the Civilian Public Service camps. His master’s thesis, the prose memoir Down in My Heart, published in 1948 described his experience in the forest service camps. In 1947 he moved to Oregon where he taught at Lewis & Clark College. Of his writing career he started late at 48 years of age. His first book, Traveling Through the Dark won the National Book Award for Poetry.
Paul Merchant wrote of Stafford, “His poems are accessible, sometimes deceptively so, with a conversational manner that is close to everyday speech.”
In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon; his tenure in the position lasted until 1990. In 1980, he retired from Lewis & Clark College but continued to travel extensively and give public readings of his poetry. In 1992, he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.
You might also want to see the Stafford shelf (04) in my book Library.
- There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.