Thursday, January 17, 2008
William Stafford, "What's In My Journal"
Blog, Journal, Scrapbook... or collage... William Stafford names it...
"What's In My Journal"
by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow
"Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine."
Have always liked the guy's work and, in the early 70s, published his little book In The Clock of Reason with Soft Press, located in our basement at 1050 St. David St., Victoria, B.C. Handset, signed, numbered... and some complained about the price we sold it for, $4.95. Because it was handset and I was a little too much into the 60s / 70s spirit, distracted, finding it hard to discipline / learn the craft, loving Stafford's work, but resistant to putting a whole day into typesetting a poem, In The Clock of Reason took a while to finish. One afternoon, in fact, Stafford simply appeared at the door, arrived from Portland. So that got things going...
"One of the most striking features of his career is that he began publishing his poetry only later in life. His first major collection of poetry Traveling Through the Dark was published when he was forty-eight years old. It won the National Book Award the following year in 1963. The title poem is one of Stafford's most well known works. It describes an experience of encountering a recently killed doe on a mountain road. Before pushing the doe off into the canyon, the poet discovers that the doe was pregnant and the fawn inside the doe is still alive.
"Stafford had a quiet daily ritual of writing and his writing focuses on the ordinary. The gentle quotidian style of his poetry has been compared to Robert Frost. His poems are typically short, focusing on the earthy, accessible details appropriate to a specific locality. In a 1971 interview, Stafford said:
"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."
"He was a close friend and collaborator with the poet Robert Bly. Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. James Dickey called Stafford one of those poets "who pour out rivers of ink, all on good poems." He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which roughly 3,000 were published.
"In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon. In 1980, he retired from Lewis and 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.
"He died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the line "You don't have to be good," my mother said; "just be ready for what God sends."  His works are still held by the Stafford family, and managed by Kim Stafford and Paul Merchant at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis and Clark College."