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William Stafford

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Dublin Lin

on 27 October 2011

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Transcript of William Stafford

Stafford Traveling Through the Dark
Born in 1914 Life Prior to Publication Stafford's Style: -Member of a tragic generation of poets-

Born the same year as poets:
Weldon Kees
Randall Jerrell
John Berryman
(These three committed suicide.)

Contemporary of:
Delmore Schwartz (1913)
Robert Lowell (1917)
(Whose lives were riddled by mental illness.)
*had Native American ancestory on his father's side
*grew up on the Kansas plains
*graduated from high school in Liberal, Kansas (1933)

B.A. from Univerity of Kansas (1937)

Drafted in 1941:
conscientious objector
as registered pacifist, performed alternative service 1942-1946 in forestry and soil conservation in Arkansas, California, & Illinois for $2.50/month.

Married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944 (while working in California doing alternative service)
They had four children.

M.A. from University of Kansas (1947)
master thesis "Down in My Heart" (prose memoir about experiences in the forest service camps--published in 1948)

1948 moved to rural Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College
(Altogether, he would wind up teaching there over 40 years.)

Ph.D. from University of Iowa in 1954

(page 453)

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By the glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm, her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

1914-1993 After receiving his Ph.D:
taught one year at Manchester College in Indiana
taught one year at San Jose State in California
returned to teaching at Lewis and Clark College

First major collection of poetry,
"Traveling Through the Dark"
was not published until he was 48 years old (1962).
It won the National Book Award (1963).

He went on to write over 65 more volumes of poetry and prose.

Consultant in Poetry 1970-1971
First Midwestern native
First West Coast resident
gentle, quotidian style, often compared to Robert Frost

typically short and down to earth

reverence for / child-like wonder of nature

settings and subjects usually center around the places he's lived (plains of Kansas, rural Oregon)

language is conversational, simple,
using vocabulary of the Midwest and rural Oregon

subtle political poet "Stafford is a poet of ordinary life. His collected poems are the journal of a man recording daily concerns. That is why his daily method of writing is relevant to his life's work. You could say that his poetry is truly quotidian: he writes it every day; it comes out of every day. And the poet of the quotidian did not find it necessary to become maudit, to follow Hart Crane to the waterfront or Baudelaire to the whorehouse or even Lowell to McLean's. He got up at six in the morning in a suburb of Portland and drained the sump."

~Donald Hall
Born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914.

He was the oldest (had two younger siblings).

His childhood family was highly literate.

His family had to move place to place for his father to find work during the Depression.

William contributed to the family income by:
delivering newspapers
working in the sugar beet fields
raising vegetables
working as an electrician's mate

William Stafford, a pacifist, came of age in the period between two world wars. He described himself as one of the "quiet of the land". William Stafford Stafford's been called a "regional poet" by some, but he, himself, argued that he was not a regional poet, since he did not center his poetry around one certain region, but, rather, simply wrote about where-ever he happened to be at the moment--whether that be in the Midwest or on the West Coast.
At the Bomb Testing Site

At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.

It was looking at something farther off
than people could see, an important scene
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.

There was just a continent without much on it
under a sky that never cared less.
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.
The hands gripped hard on the desert.
Now I remember: in our town the druggist
prescribed Coca-Cola mostly, in tapered
glasses to us, and to the elevator
man in a paper cup, so he could
drink it elsewhere because he was black.

And now I remember The Legion—gambling
in the back room, and no women, but girls, old boys
who ran the town. They were generous,
to their sons or the sons of friends.
And of course I was almost one.

I remember winter light closing
its great blue fist slowly eastward
along the street, and the dark then, deep
as war, arched over a radio show
called the thirties in the great old U.S.A.

Look down, stars—I was almost
one of the boys. My mother was folding
her handkerchief; the library seethed and sparked;
right and wrong arced; and carefully
I walked with my cup toward the elevator man. Serving with Gideon "It depends on the receiver, depends on how far up you turn the interior volume. You can get a lot out of something that is simple. A part of the fun of writing, for me, is to have something that sounds so simple until later in the quiet of the night. Maybe a line like 'Hope lasts a long time if you're happy.' Is that optimistic or pessimistic? I don't know. I like the idea of putting forward things that put the reader or hearer off guard. Those who decide to be hard to nail down, that's interesting..."

~William Stafford

"I have a poem called 'The Animal that Drank Up Sound,' and I was in Iran when the Shah was there. The translator of my poems came to me and said, 'Some of your poems are so political.' He was afraid to translate the poem. I thought it was an Indian legend, but when I looked over his shoulder, I felt the Shah looking over my shoulder, and I saw it was a terribly political poem there where they had censorship."

~William Stafford "I think a poem is a crystallization of language. Language is just about to become this. So it's not my possession. Once I write it down, it's everybody's. Someone says what I see in your poem is such and such: I have no quarrel. The language is social. They own as much of it as I do. So I came to it my way, but they take it out their way. The language crystallizes, I make a lucky pass through some language, someone else grows lucky about it, okay they may take it."

~William Stafford William Stafford died in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28,
1993, having written a poem that morning containing the line
"Be ready for what God sends."

AmericanPoems.com Speaking about "At the Bomb Testing Site":

"The poem never alludes directly to its subject except in the title. The awful potential is seen
through the anticipatory behavior of the lizard, and described with understated detachment....
And this, I think, is why a poem like Stafford's seems memorable. It is able to shift its subjectivity
to another creature--a creature noted for its cold blood--and offer instinctual anticipation as a kind
of measure for the unspeakable."

~Leonard Nathan

"A political poem in which not a single political statement is made, what Stafford himself calls
more 'nonapparently politically than apparently political'"

~Charles Simic
Full transcript