Saturday, May 13, 2006

Remembering William Stafford

I just wrote this comment on a blog I just discovered, The Stone and Plank from writer, Curt Stump, on the poet, William Stafford. I had already seen the reference to his poetry, and his essays in particular, in Burning Patience. Here's my comment:

May 13th, 2006 at 11:32 am

Hi, I just found you via Sheryl. Much good stuff here, I’ll be back for a comment on poetic voice. Right now I have to go outside for the first time this week, and plant some flowers.

Thank you so much for these comments on Bill Stafford. I, too, met him through the Fine Arts Work Center. [Oops, I meant Port Townsend, the Centrum Symposia] I like to think that we “clicked” — we seemed to have the same temperment and inclinations. I had already admired his poetry, that big book of his early selected, one of my favorites (and lent to a student and I never got it back!) Stafford is an antidote for much that is not poetry. It is good to see (read) him remembered. He wrote a poem a day, after or during his daily walk in the canyon through Reed College where he taught. Not all good poems, but most. Imagine what it must be like to be his son and burdened with that legacy, a lifetime’s worth of poetry to edit from someone so prolific — and good. A good Stafford poem is about as good as it gets. We spent a lot of time at FAWC [Port Townsend!] in the late 70s, both in and out of the faculty cabin. Every time I found myself doing anything when he was around, conference, reading, etc., I gravitated toward him, I liked to hang around him; and he was always respectful. We also clicked in our connection and commitment to community arts. (Yes, he would *love* what you are doing and have done.) He always encouraged — and attended — spontaneous open mike readings wherever he was, and what impressed me the most, is that everywhere he was he was a traveling poetry wall, that is, a roll of butcher paper stapled or taped to the wall, and he created an instant Poetry Space. People could post their new poems on the wall, an instant publishing wall, and hang out to see who’s reading and posting. It was always exciting to see new work by new (to us) poets as soon as it was written; what I now love about blogs: a community. Poetry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Language is both private and personal at the same time it is social and communal. Stafford understood this, which is why his poems were never wholly ahistorical. He was, also, a lovely man. Shy and gentle, with a keen sense of humor when you got to know him. I miss him. A year or so before he died I ran into him at the airport when I was giving a reading at Reed. He was already retired from there. We talked for quite a while, just standing there before heading to and from our gates. He was so gracious, he remembered me very well and surprised me by revealing he had read my latest book and liked it. It’s a very special memory for me now, that chat with the venerable poet in the midst of the all the rushing around us.

Didn’t he write, “Writing the Australian Crawl” in that early Poets on Poetry Series. As that’s what writing about writing poetry is, like trying to teach someone how to swim through words. As Stanley Kunitz used to say, “Poetry is only half words.”

Stafford had so many words, I’m sure that’s the only reason he’s not better recognized today.

Thank you for remembering, and for allowing me to remember.


*Oops! I forgot to write: If William Stafford were alive today he'd be a Po' Blogger.

Funny, it was when I returned from Reed last month that I read the post on Stafford in Burning Patience. I had been thinking of him so hard, and mourning the fact that all of my Stafford had disappeared from the shelves as I routinely give my books to students to read then and there, and I don't always get them back. (If you're a former student of mine reading this, and guilty, you can always get them back to my box at the university or mail them there -- heck, right now, there's a box on my porch for collecting manuscripts, you could sneak them in the box and I'll never remember who had what when.) I loved being at Reed. I loved the students: so bright and aware, such a breath of fresh reasoning, and active in the world. It occurred to me that the life I would really love right now would be to be hired at Reed, and just take up Bill's legacy, or try. I would try so hard to live up to it. Hike up and down those same trails in the Portland mist. Come back down with a poem everyday. Bring really good writers. Recruit really good writers as students (they're so diverse there already!) Less petty personal politics and power-tripping (I imagine) and fewer ego clashes as with an MFA investd in a School of ... Mush. Heck, I'm already relegated to just teaching undergraduates. Do it for a private college for more money. Get them while they're young and blow on those embers. Yeah. Sounds good. The life of Bill. I'm ready. Old age, here I come. . .

At least I'd finally get support for a poetry wall. (My last attempt was torn down and all the poems and paper disappeared.)

Time to plant flowers.

For all those graduating -- CONGRATULATIONS!

"The journey has just begun."

~ LDC in poem for Ramon del Castillo in honor of his Ph.D in DRIVE: The First Quartet


Blogger Curt Stump said...

Hi Lorna, thanks for pointing out my post on Stafford. He's definitely an inspiration, and a great counterbalance to the negative aspects of poetry that are out there. Your comment was a tribute to Stafford in itself. So thanks for that. I wrote a longer response at my site, but the main idea was to say thanks for sharing the Stafford story. What strikes me most is that he was consistently so genuine and generous. There are other good poets out there, but Stafford really was (from what I can tell by reading and hearing other people's accounts) really an incredible teacher and human being.

I'll be checking in here more, since I didn't know about your site (I'm still discovering poets and bloggers one by one). I also want to check out your poet blogroll when I get some time to go through it.

13/5/06 14:03  

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