04 December 2006

Contemplating William Stafford

I've been reading William Stafford, The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems of late. I would identify him as a process poet, one concerned with organics over methodical analysis. Stafford didn't publish his first book until he was 46 years old. He then made up for lost time with 67 volumes of poetry over the next 33 years.

Reading his poems, I can see the influence on other poets I admire. It becomes the chicken and egg problem. Influence --> Poet --> Influence --> Poet.
I'm finding the influences I need at the time I need them. Even a year ago I wouldn't have been ready for William Stafford, Louise Gluck, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Jane Hirshfield.

Some poems are difficult to get into. I don't find that with Stafford, if anything I discover I've read the whole poem without realizing it. There is no effort, it flows from one line to the next with clarity and ease. Each part builds, and the endings are not usually startling revelations, but rather a stopping place for the reader to contemplate the meaning of the whole. All in all, a poet to admire and learn from. One of my favorite Stafford poems below.

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border
William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

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