The Sunday Salon: Poetry #2 - William Stafford

The Sunday I have confessed here before that I'm not much of a poetry reader. I love words and word play and rhythmic lyrical phrasing; I write songs and I even write poetry. So I'm puzzled about why I struggle so with reading it. Perhaps it's because I didn't grow up in a house filled with poetry, and I don't recall it being much a part of my early education (except the poem about squishing the fly on the windowsill and a few bawdy limericks). I can love a good poem by Mary Oliver or Lucille Clifton; I enjoy some poetry readings; but it's rare for me to willingly sit down with a book of poetry and stick with it.

Here in Portland we had a local treasure, William Stafford, poet, teacher, peace activist. He died in 1993 and left a huge legacy of poetry and essays, and his best work: a son, Kim Stafford, who is following in his father's large footsteps and creating a wonderful body of poetry in his own right. He also teaches locally and maintains the archive of his father's work.

Here's a sample of Wm. Stafford's work:

Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron

Out of their loneliness for each other
two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
forward and become suddenly a life
lifted from dawn or the rain. It is
the wilderness come back again, a lagoon
with our city reflected in its eye.
We live by faith in such presences.

It is a test for us, that thin
but real, undulating figure that promises,
"If you keep faith I will exist
at the edge, where your vision joins
the sunlight and the rain: heads in the light,
feet that go down in the mud where the truth is."

(© 1987; from Even in Quiet Places, 1996)

Today I'm reading The Long Sigh the Wind Makes, a collection of Stafford's poems published in 1991, and some essays from his book Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation. I also have a DVD , William Stafford, Life and Poems, one part of which has him deconstructing a few of his own poems. Wonderful stuff. My plan is to get to know the Staffords' work (father and son) better this year - who knows, maybe I'll get an opportunity to take a workshop with Kim.

Other reading news:
  • I zipped through The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - a sweet little memoir by Helene Hanff who, after her 20 year overseas correspondence with a London bookseller (detailed in 84, Charing Cross Road), finally gets to visit the city of her dreams.
  • I finished The Gathering (Anne Enright), a book that was difficult for me to get through and made me wonder why it was the Man Booker prize winner. Literary judges often have very different taste than I do!
  • I'm now into Small Island by Andrea Levy, which is a much more enjoyable read.
  • Almost embarrassed to say that I'm still reading War and Peace - but I am past the 1,000th page! Maybe by next Sunday I'll declare it finished.


Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, I mentioned Hanff today as well because I just love books about books. I don't know Stafford, but the poem you quote make me think I should. I was very lucky where poetry is concerned. I don't live that far from Stratford and every summer they have a poetry festival often featuring the actors who are working for the RSC as the readers. This means that I've been able to hear some of the greatest poetry in the world read allowed by people who really knew what they were doing. I think this makes a tremendous difference where poetry is concerned. I can go back to it and read it quietly to myself with the memories of how it can be performed in my head.

Anonymous said...

I was introduced to William Stafford when a student at Messiah College. I had a few courses on contemporary American poetry, and he was one of the favorites of my professor, Dr. William Jolliff, who is now at George Fox University, I believe, in Oregon. After college, for a while, I also wrote poetry and am putting some of that poetry on another of my blogs: for what I call Wordsmith Wednesday. I look forward to checking out your poetry on your other site as well.

Terri said...

Ann, how lucky you are to have heard poetry read by the "pros" - I can see how that would make a huge difference in your reading of it. I ought to go to more readings.

I see you're reading Year of Wonders - that's one of my favorites for this year. I think Brooks does an excellent job of capturing the period language. Are you enjoying it?

"readingfool" - thanks for stopping by! Yes, George Fox is in Oregon, not far from Portland. Love the name of your blog, unfinished person!

Mrs S said...

Maybe hearing poetry read by a prose would help me to understand it - I'm sure the tone and speed must be a very important part.

Mrs S said...

Hmm - that should have said pro!