Friday, January 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday William Stafford

I've been away from Poetry Friday for a while, but I could not pass up William Stafford's birthday.


Stafford was born January 17, 1914. This week marked his 98th birthday. His first collection, Traveling though the Dark, won the National Book Award in 1963 (he was 48, all you late bloomers). "Ultimate Problems" -- oh, on my all-time favorite poem list!

Some time ago, I started a poetry project. I began writing response poems to each of Stafford's pieces in The Darkness around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. (It's one of my favorite books of poetry.)

The project's beginnings were accidental. A line in "With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach" prompted a memory of observing my child in the snow, after the blizzard of 2003. I titled the poem with a phrase from "With Kit, Age 7": "An Absolute Vista." You can listen to Stafford's poem here.

Sometimes it was a line of Stafford's that prompted a memory or image for my own poem. Or it could be the title, the theme, even something in the feel or tone of the poem I was trying to capture. One of Stafford's poems perplexed me so much that I opted to take a short phrase, "fingers into stones," as a jumping-off point. The resulting poem is a surreal meditation on aging.

Recently, life has gotten in the way of continuing with my project, though I did write about a half dozen response poems. I hope to pick it up again some day.

Today, I'm sharing an original poem, written in response to one of Stafford's.

Here is his poem, "Passing Remark."

Passing Remark
by William Stafford

In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don't like much to happen.
In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.
My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
says, "Then why did you choose me?"

Read the rest (and more poems) at Friends of William Stafford.

My response poem involves a passing remark, but has deeper resonances with Stafford's piece. It appears in my chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone.

Tomorrow Is Going to Be Normal
by Laura Shovan

Walking home from the school bus, my son says,
“Tomorrow is going to be normal.”
He speaks with the confidence of relief.
When every day is the same, he can breathe.

Each morning, I tell myself,
Today, is the day --
I wait for the remarkable to land on my shoulder
or call me on the phone.

Sometimes it is a fortune written on the tag of my tea.
Sometimes it is a bird. Other days
I miss the quiet calling to attention.
I go to bed tired.

My son knows there is comfort in monotony.
Do I really want the phone to ring? It could be the lottery
or a hospital calling. He thinks my life is enough:
the mildness of the room when I am the only thing moving in it.

No. I must begin each day
wanting the next few hours to jolt me out of sameness.
He shakes his head. That we could be so different
we both find remarkable.
This was not a "normal" day.

Poet Robert Bly interviewed Stafford for the introduction to The Darkness around Us Is Deep (which includes such well-known poems as "Traveling through the Dark," "Fifteen," and "Ask Me.") Bly asked about Stafford's practice of rising early to write each day. He said something like, "What if you're not so good that day?" And Stafford replied, "Then I lower my standards." I love that.

If you're as fascinated with Stafford as I am, here is an interview with his son Kim. It's a beautiful meditation on his father's writing space and daily practice. His book, Early Morning, is one I'm putting on my wish list.

Happy Poetry Friday. I'm going to celebrate by playing with my box of Haikubes. I'll post some of the results soon.

Elaine at Wild Rose Reader is our Poetry Friday host today. Stop by her blog for more poetry posts.

12 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

Beautiful is "I wait for the remarkable to land on my shoulder". Thank you for your poem, and for all things Stafford. I have heard that quote about lowering his standards, and it helps me write, when I don't have to be so hard on myself. Do you do that too? I enjoyed you words about your son and you being different, with differing needs-the way of most parents and children I think.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

Another William Stafford poem! Have you visited Maria (Horvath's) blog yet - it also has a fiery Stafford Poem that is simply beautiful. I have to confess that this is the first I've really explored his poetry though I have heard of him - and must have studied a few of his works during my university days. Thank you for reminding me of Stafford - I should find the time to read his works more :)

jama said...

Love this post, and Stafford. Didn't realize it was his birthday this week. He was born in the same year as my father !

Your response poem is wonderful -- I identify with your son and find comfort in sameness, which also comes in varying degrees. :)

Thanks for the link to the interview. Off to read. . .

Author Amok said...

Thank you all for the comments. Linda, I am taking a class right now "The Tao of Playwriting." Many of the exercises are about the practice of -- if not lowering our expectations -- welcoming whatever ideas arrive, taking time to explore them without judgment. That is, I'm guessing, part of what Stafford meant.
It is amazing the way that poems can carry on conversation between themselves. I appreciate that you listened in!

Andi Sibley said...

I am with you, waiting for the remarkable to land. Thanks for these links to more on Stafford. I am going to explore him more!

Mary Lee said...

Sometimes I want your kind of remarkable, and sometimes I long for the normal that gives your son great comfort. Good advice to celebrate whichever comes my way!

Haikubes...I'm intrigued!

Tara said...

I love the juxtaposition of the two poems...and am so moved by this line:
I wait for the remarkable to land on my shoulder
or call me on the phone

It was so good to hear you voice on this Poetry Friday...

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Andi, Mary Lee and Tara. I'm glad you found something familiar in my poem and enjoyed reading this one from Stafford. And I'm glad to be back in the Poetry Friday circle!

Ruth said...

I loved Stafford's poem and yours. Thank you!

Tabatha said...

Hi Laura! Good to see you. Writing responses to Stafford's poems is a terrific idea. I hope you get a chance to do more. Looking forward to hearing about Haikubes!

Amy LV said...

Both of these poems are so moving, and your idea to write responses to many of Stafford's poems is fantastic! How much you must be learning about you and him, echoing your words from his heart. Thank you for this rich, thoughtful post...I have more to explore! a.

Author Amok said...

It was a good exercise, Amy, and I'm happy with many of the poems I wrote from this practice. I hope to get back to it eventually!