Archive for the ‘William Stafford’ Category

William Stafford’s poetry lightened his life having woven a parachute out of everything broken.

January 25, 2021

My son sent me a link to a quote by William Stafford that Michael Meade had posted on his Instagram. I couldn’t find the source. Perhaps it may have come from a personal correspondence between the two friends.

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” — William Stafford

The Japanese art of kintsugi

The quote and background image remind me of kintsugi or kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pieces of pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The piece becomes stronger and more beautiful than the original because of its unique imperfections.

To me, this serves as a metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges, scars and all, which build character. When I first saw a piece of repaired broken Japanese pottery using this method, it inspired a poem using one of the forms of Japanese poetry—kintsugi tanka.

A poet of peace

William Stafford responded creatively and with integrity to the challenges life sent his way. He remained true to his voice as a conscientious objector, poet of peace, and the innovative way he taught writing.

A realist on the human condition, his poems made us think, as in A Ritual to Read to Each Other, from his poetry collection, Traveling through the Dark, which won the National Book Award in 1963.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Following the thread

During his early morning writing, Stafford subscribed to the approach of William Blake’s golden string.

“I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

As any persistent writer will tell you, when they finally “get it right,” there’s a feeling of euphoria, the metaphorical equivalent of entering “Heaven’s gate.”

Stafford was awake to that revelatory moment when each thread of thought presented itself to him. They would lead to unexpected associations and realizations. In the last poem he wrote the day he died, he said: You can’t tell when strange things with meaning will happen.

Speaking of weaving together a parachute from everything broken, this most popular poem by Stafford, and my favorite, talks about holding onto an unseen thread that’s woven throughout all of life’s experiences.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Coincidentally, I came across a quote from the Vedic literature that takes this idea of an uncommon thread and extends it to a cosmic thread.

He who knows the fine-drawn thread of which the creatures that we see are spun, who knows the thread of that same thread—he also knows Brahman, the Ultimate. (Atharva Veda Samhita 10.8.37)

Other favorite poems by William Stafford

I’ve posted some of William Stafford’s poetry and his approach to teaching writing on The Uncarved Blog. A few of those poems that stand out for me are: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, The Way It Is, A Course in Creative Writing, and Rx Creative Writing: Identity.

The last poem he had written the day he died, August 28, 1993, was “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”. It was featured and published posthumously in The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by Graywolf Press in 1999, which was how I first discovered it.

Years later I had a realization about that last poem and created this memorial post including insightful quotes into Stafford’s creative process with related links: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

When it comes to student-centered teaching, I featured William Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

Related posts on this topic

Richard Wagamese bravely entered the cracks in his life to reveal the hidden gold buried within

Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything—how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

William Stafford prescribed creative writing to find your own voice and reveal your inner light

November 30, 2020

One of the first books of poetry I ever bought for myself was You Must Revise Your Life by William Stafford. It was part of The University of Michigan Press series of Poets on Poetry. His poems, essays and interviews on writing, teaching, and performing were a revelation!

I was discovering the writing process at the time and how to facilitate it, and found Stafford’s poems and his thoughts on the teaching of writing poetry to be very relevant. Here are a few that caught my attention: When I Met My Muse, You and Art, Ask Me, and A Course in Creative Writing.

I reread his poem, Rx Creative Writing: Identity, and decided to include it.

Rx Creative Writing: Identity
By William Stafford

You take this pill, a new world
springs out of whatever sea
most drowned the old one,
arrives like light.

Then that bone light belongs
inside of things. You touch
or hear so much yourself
there is no dark.

Nothing left but what Aquinas
counted: he—touched, luminous—
bowed over sacred worlds, each one
conceived, then really there—

Not just hard things: down on
a duck as real as steel.
You know so sure there burns
a central vividness.

It tells you;
all you do is tell about it.

This poem was also later included in The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems. The last poem he wrote the day he would die introduces the book. You can read it in this blog post: William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph.

There is a quote on the back cover of You Must Revise Your Life taken from an earlier compilation of his, Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer’s Vocation. It epitomizes Stafford’s approach to writing.

A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.

As part of their Poets on Poetry series, The University of Michigan Press published four books of Stafford’s collections of prose and poetry on the writing profession, the poetics of a new generation. Writing the Australian Crawl was the first, followed by You Must Revise Your Life. The third and fourth volumes, published posthumously, were: Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation and The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life.

I also very much enjoyed reading the biography written by his son Kim, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. The lines from his most profound and favorite poem, The Way It Is, were used as chapter headings. I’ve posted more of his poems on The Uncarved Blog.

Stafford and other trailblazers of the writing process are mentioned in this related blog post: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

I was naturally influenced by what I was reading and experiencing at the time. Some of my first inspired attempts were very meta, commentaries on Writing—a poem on the writing process, and Sometimes Poetry Happens: a poem about the mystery of creativity.

New York poet laureate Mary Howe’s experience captured in her poem, Annunciation, and her conversations with On Being’s Krista Tippett and The Millions’ Alex Dueben, reveal a profound understanding of how poetry vividly comes to and through us.

John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets

January 27, 2020

These 4 short lines by John O’Donohue describe how he lived his creative life—amazed by each revelatory moment, turning them into poems.

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue

Enjoy 3 more of his lovely poems: A Blessing of Solitude (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom); The Inner History of a Day and For a New Beginning (To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).

William Stafford expressed the same notion in his talks and poems of being innocent, spontaneous, and responding creatively in the moment: A Course in Creative Writing, You and Art, and When I Met My Muse.

This poem my son wrote when he was in 6th grade epitomizes this idea: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

These poems I wrote on the process share in that same sentiment: Writing; Storytelling; and Sometimes Poetry Happens, which turned out to be a commentary on this revealed poem, ODE TO THE ARTIST: Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

In our efforts to fluently express ourselves, writing, primarily, is a process of self-discovery. Burghild Nina Holzer says journal writing allows us to discover who we are and what we have to say.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

WHO ARE YOU?, a poem in the film, Words and Pictures, invites us to write and discover who we are. There’s a fascinating story behind it.

In the words of Donald Hall, “Writing is the process of using language to discover meaning in experience and to communicate it.”

In this collection of Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers, Hall also wrote:

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

Cellist and composer Daniel Sperry performs William Stafford’s poem, “The Way It Is”

December 7, 2015

This is my favorite poem by William Stafford—The Way It Is. I had found a verse from one of the Vedas that extends the theme in the poem to its ultimate conclusion and added it after his poem. I call the grouping uncommon thread … cosmic thread.

Besides this musical video of the poem by Daniel Austin Sperry, it is also available digitally on his new album: Cutting Loose ~ A Tribute To William Stafford. I’ve been listening to the CD and it’s beautiful! I’m ordering some as holiday gifts. You may want to as well.

You can order it on his website where he’s offering bulk discounts on a Five Pack and Ten Pack of CDs. For more videos and news follow him on Facebook.com/PoetrySandwich.

Enjoy other Stafford poems posted on The Uncarved Blog, some of which have also been recorded by Daniel Sperry like, William Stafford—You and Art, and the last poem he wrote the morning of the day he died: “Are you Mr. William Stafford?”

Daniel Sperry is an innovative, genre-stretching cellist, composer, and evocateur from Ashland, OR, who specializes in creating Musical Portraits for individuals as markers for special occasions and as gifts for loved ones. He performs all over the country in house concerts featuring these portraits, the poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and others along with his original music, opera arias, and standards.

See this wonderful video: Moments with Daniel Sperry: Cello in Lithia Park from Daniel Sperry on Vimeo. Read the Ashland Daily Times Article about Daniel in Lithia Park. Discover more about The Story of Daniel.

William Stafford’s last poem now seemed prophetic—an unintended literary epitaph

November 21, 2015

Below is the last poem William Stafford wrote in his Daily Writings, the morning of the day he died. He was 79 (Jan 17, 1914–Aug 28, 1993).

An unintended prophetic literary epitaph, you wonder if he knew on some deep level that his life was coming to a close?

In a way, the poem beautifully sums up his life as an awake poet, effortlessly creating (It was all easy) from the revelatory moment where, “For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things.”*

Kim Stafford says a friend told him his father’s “imagination was tuned to the moment when epiphanies were just about to come into being.” Kim continues: At such a moment, ambition could be fatal to what we seek. Take a deep breath and wait. What seeks you may then appear.**

There is a reproduction of this poem in his own handwriting opposite the inside title of his posthumously published book, The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford, Graywolf Press (1999).

There was no title to the handwritten poem, just the date of the entry, 28 August 1993. It appears on page 46, and underneath the date is the title:

“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”

“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”
“Yes, but. . . .”

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that’s when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That’s when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

“It’s for the best,” my mother said—”Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good.”
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray; trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can’t tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I’m [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. “You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
Why
It came.

Listen to a beautiful musical rendition of this poem by Daniel Austin Sperry from his album: Cutting Loose ~ A Tribute To William Stafford. Follow him on Facebook.com/PoetrySandwich for updates and musical videos. Visit http://cellomansings.com. Buy the digital album online or email to order the CD cellomansings@gmail.com.

See William Stafford—The Way It Is, also recorded by Daniel Sperry, as well as William Stafford—You and Art. Enjoy other favorite Stafford poems posted on The Uncarved Blog.

*Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford, by Kim Stafford, Graywolf Press (2002), page 289, referencing his National Book Award Acceptance Speech in 1963.

**Ibid, page 136. “What seeks you may then appear” and in the poem, “Just be ready for what God sends” remind me of the ancient rishis, the Vedic seers who were so awake inside that they heard the Veda humming to itself within their own consciousness; they cognized the richas, the hymns of the Veda that sought them out.

That quality of wakefulness, innocence and readiness—a subtle receptivity to what may be given, or realized, is described in Rk Veda, 5.44.14: Yo jagara tam richa kamayante. He who is awake, the richas seek him out. (Peter Freund’s Favorite Sanskrit Expressions, page 3.)

See Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describe the process of Vedic cognition during a 1976 European symposium on Science and Consciousness: He Who Is Awake the Hymns Seek Him Out.

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Winding up the year with inspiration from Hafiz

December 29, 2014

We are coming to the end of the year 2014. It seemed like a rough one for many, personally, and collectively for the world. I’ve finished reading A Year With Hafiz: Daily Contemplations, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. There is usually one poem a day per page. It was a gift from friend and author Steven Verney. Here are 3 poems towards the end of the book, end of the year, that talk about endings, and, in a way, new beginnings. May they inspire you as we transition into the new year, and for some, into a new life in 2015.

A Prayer I Sometimes Say

It is the Beloved who is revealed in every
face, sought in every sign,

gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in
every object that is adored, pursued in the
visible and in the unseen.

Not a single one of His creatures, not a
single one, my dears, will

fail to someday find the divine Source
in all of its primordial and glorious nature.

And be forever united with the Infinite,
because that—God—is really you.

Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, look what your
words have become—the restoration of
Truth, the regeneration of Life itself.

December 23, page 391

* * * * *

The Tender Mouth Of The Earth

What will the burial of my body be? The
pouring of a sacred cup of wine into the earth’s

tender mouth and making my dear sweet lover
laugh one more time.

What is the passing of a body? The glorious
lifting of the spirit into the sacred arms of the

Sky, and making existence smile, one more, one
more time.

December 28, page 396

* * * * *

A River Understands

I used to know my name. Now I don’t. I
think a river understands me.

For what does it call itself in that blessed
moment when it starts emptying into the
Infinite Luminous Sea,

and opening every aspect of self wider than
it ever thought possible?

Each drop of itself now running to embrace
and unite with a million new friends.

And you were there, in my union with All,
everyone who will ever see this page.

December 29, page 397

* * * * *

One poem about a river is beautifully told by William Stafford in his poem, Ask Me, where he looks to the stillness in the river to inform him, and the person asking him about his life, and, in a way, the creative process in the moment. Another poem of his, Something That Happens Right Now, also leaves you with a similar unbounded feeling as this last Hafiz poem does.

See other inspiring poems by Hafiz, translated by Ladinsky, posted here.

Read a beautiful poem Today by William Stafford

November 1, 2012
“Today” is a beautiful poem written by William Stafford, selected from his book My Name is William Tell by Beth Atchison and contributed to Panhala, which is how I found out about it today.

Today

The ordinary miracles begin. Somewhere
a signal arrives: “Now,” and the rays
come down. A tomorrow has come. Open
your hands, lift them: morning rings
all the doorbells; porches are cells for prayer.
Religion has touched your throat. Not the same now,
you could close your eyes and go on full of light.

And it is already begun, the chord
that will shiver glass, the song full of time
bending above us. Outside, a sign:
a bird intervenes; the wings tell the air,
“Be warm.” No one is out there, but a giant
has passed through town, widening streets, touching
the ground, shouldering away the stars.

~ William Stafford ~

Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers

February 24, 2011

Writers on Writing

Below are a few of many quotes by famous writers on writing found in Learning by Teaching, Selected Articles on Writing and Teaching, by Donald M. Murray. When I volunteered to become a writing facilitator at MIU in the mid-80s, this was our bible. It had a huge transformational effect on me. I used these writing principles when I helped young students write at the Sylvan Learning Center in North Vancouver, BC, Canada. I also learned writing techniques from Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, and shared them with my students, and later in other writing workshops with older animation students, and friends.

The whole idea is to facilitate the writing process, to see what it would reveal to the writer, rather than focus on producing a specific piece of writing. I remember reading what Donald Graves had to say about teaching writing, something like: “If you take care of the writer, the writing will take care of itself.” Donald Graves studied with Donald Murray, and went on to conduct research in the classroom on how to teach children to becoming writers. His seminal book, Writing: Teachers & Children at Work, has become a classic and revolutionized the teaching of writing in schools.

Here’s what some famous writers, poets, and playwrights have to say about their writing process.

Edward Albee: Writing has got to be an act of discovery. . . .I write to find out what I’m thinking about.

C. Day Lewis: First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it….we do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.

William Faulkner: It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

E. M. Forster: Think before you speak, is criticism’s motto; speak before you think is creation’s.

Donald Hall: A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

William Stafford: I don’t see writing as a communication of something already discovered, as “truths” already known. Rather, I see writing as a job of experiment. It’s like any discovery job; you don’t know what’s going to happen until you try it.

Speaking of William Stafford, you’ll enjoy this poem, William Stafford—A Course in Creative Writing, and others posted on my blog. Also see one of my first poems, Writing—a poem on the writing process.

And you’ll especially enjoy reading New York Times best-selling author (Eat, Pray, Love) Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing, as well as What Rainer Maria Rilke inscribed on the copy of The Duino Elegies he gave his Polish translator, mentioned in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield. Also check out: Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights.

Here’s a good resource of timeless advice on writing from famous authors posted on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova@brainpicker. I liked what Andrea R Huelsenbeck posted: 14 Authors Share Their Writing Wisdom…by the staff of Writer’s Relief. You may also enjoy Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say. Later added: The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice.

Writing—a poem on the writing process

January 18, 2011

Writing

Writing is a series of letting go’s
of our preconceived notions of how it goes
and allowing a deeper part of you to tell you what it knows;
when the writing’s good, it shows.

Because, ultimately, when we do,
that recognition of what’s true,
comes from the deepest part of you.

So let the writing speak to itself,
and let the writer listen, for

writing is listening on paper.

© Ken Chawkin

Also see Storytelling—a poem on the storytelling process

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William Stafford—The Light By The Barn

January 15, 2011

The Light By The Barn

The light by the barn that shines all night
pales at dawn when a little breeze comes.

A little breeze comes breathing the fields
from their sleep and waking the slow windmill.

The slow windmill sings the long day
about anguish and loss to the chickens at work.

The little breeze follows the slow windmill
and the chickens at work till the sun goes down—

Then the light by the barn again.

—William Stafford

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