Meeting William Stafford

This is not about the time that I met the late and great poet William Stafford. Though we shared six years on this earth, I never got that chance. This is rather about the metaphorical meeting that great poetry can convince you you have had.

There are poems that you read which resonate. About which you say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel, or at least how I’d like to.” The first time this happened to me though, I was shocked.

My high school education included too much average poetry and too little that resonated with me, if anyone. We read Dickinson too early to understand her, and Plath too briefly to care. We surely read others, but they never stuck.

I became convinced that I hated poetry. It’s not that I hated the words, I hated the pressure that my education put on the form and the analysis.

First I learned how to write sonnets. Not that I would ever write a sonnet, but someone thought I should know how to.

And then I was forced to pull meaning out of Shakespeare. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Really we were simply looking for tricks that reinforced the poem’s meaning. But I was never told, so I became convinced that there was to be meaning attached to each slant rhyme, each sibilance, and god forbid, the hundreds of metaphors. This killed any innate love for poetry I may have ever had.

After that, I hated the form.

With time a few broke through. William Carlos Williams famous “so much depends…” got me once. Bukowoski, beaten over my head by a friend, seemed good enough.

William Stafford, though, he’s the one that snuck up on me. Surfing the internets [sic] one day I found this:

‘Any Morning’

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

I couldn’t look away. The poem was so simple, honest, and full of the simple joy of simple moments. And it made me do one thing nothing I’d not done in some long time: seek out a book of poems.

And there I found another:

Love in the Country

We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.

Again, same effect. Transfixed. The last stanza especially.

“…we study how to deserve/ what has already been given us.” I must have read it over at least ten times. I considered how much I truly owed the world. How much I’d been given, how much I had left to give.

I haven’t read any more Stafford recently, but these have kept me. Perhaps I should look for more, I’ve waited long enough.

In any case, there’s the story of how I met William Stafford. And how he helped me love poetry. And better understand the world. And my place within it.

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