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."
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 Normalby 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 daywanting 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.