Posts Tagged ‘William Stafford’

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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PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words

December 9, 2009

Haydn Reiss on Rumi & Stafford

Two Documentaries on Poets of Peace

BY TONY ELLIS

Filmmaker Haydn Reiss

The moral dilemma most often thrust in the face of those who oppose war goes something like this: What would you do if the lives of your loved ones were being threatened right in front of you? Would you not grab any weapon available in order to protect them? So why not fight to defend your country?

National Book Award-winning poet and World War II conscientious objector William Stafford (1914-1993) wrote in his journal: “The question, ‘Wouldn’t you fight for your country?’ begs the real question which is, ‘What is the best way to behave here and now to serve your country?’ So the real answer would be, ‘If it was the right thing to do, I would fight for my country. Now let’s talk about, what is the right thing to do?’ ”

This was one of the quandaries I discussed recently on the phone with Haydn Reiss, producer and director of Every War Has Two Losers: A Poet’s Meditation on Peace, a thoughtful and beautifully crafted documentary based on the writings of Stafford, and Rumi: Poet of the Heart, a previous work about the life of the Sufi mystic poet. Both films feature comments from a number of well-known poets, writers, and thinkers, including Robert Bly, Coleman Barks, Michael Meade, Alice Walker, Huston Smith and Deepak Chopra.

Reiss, a self-confessed “producer for hire,” has been involved in a range of visual media from Hollywood features (JFK and Jacob’s Ladder) to TV shows, but it is obvious his real passion lies in his work about these two poetic masters, separated in time by more than 700 years, and the potential of their words to move the hearts and minds of men away from conflict.

Reiss believes Stafford, like many of his fellow conscientious objectors, was no starry-eyed idealist. He accepted that conflict is always a possibility in the course of human affairs, says Reiss. But Stafford didn’t believe war was inevitable or even advisable. In Stafford’s view the consequences of war are rarely, if ever, beneficial to humanity. He encouraged everyone to consider the motives of those who urge us to war before getting caught up in the fever of victory. “How do we know war is the answer?” asks Stafford in his journal. “How can there be a nation we don’t like? That’s a fiction put onto a million different people. It has been created by interests you might well do to analyze.”

“It would be very satisfying to think,” says Reiss in an interview on the film’s website, “that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of ‘How did I come to believe that?’ ”

“I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do,” Reiss continues. “The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is ‘Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?’ The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast; imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.”

We live in such a culture of violence that sometimes it is hard to imagine how the actions or words of one person can be heard above all the clatter. Stafford believed peace is achieved gradually, created one person, one small step at a time. “Artists and peacemakers are in it for the long haul,” Stafford writes in his journal. “Redemption comes with care. Here’s how to count the people who are ready to do right: 1 . . . 1. . . 1.”

His chosen medium was poetry. In a poem entitled “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” composed in Iowa City on June 23, 1953, he wrote:

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.

In Every War Has Two Losers, Stafford’s friend Michael Meade comments, “Something very deep in the human heart wants beauty, love, and relatedness more than it wants destruction, war and violence.” This theme is further explored in Rumi: Poet of the Heart, a tender and insightful portrayal of the life and work of Sufism’s most cherished poet. Reiss is a big believer in the power of poetry to take us to deeper understanding. “It’s alchemical,” he tells me, and quotes from William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem”: “I give you the end of a golden string, only wind it in a ball, it will lead in at Heaven’s gate built in Jerusalem’s wall,” a theme I discovered Stafford often used in his lectures. “Poetry can take us to a place where nations and newspapers are not so important as what is happening out in the fields and the birds and the wind,” says poet Coleman Barks in the film. His soulful translations of Rumi’s poems have made them famous worldwide. Deepak Chopra suggests that if more poetry was read to children we could substantially change the world for the better.

Stafford wrote a poem a day after rising before dawn and spending time in contemplation and reflection. “I have an appetite for finding the perfect language to describe the experience of life you’re having right now,” he once said. “Every now and then I break off a piece of that and call it a poem.” Rumi poured out thousands of lines of exquisite verse as he struggled to deal with the devastating loss of his friend and mentor, Shams of Tabriz.

“Rumi’s poetry emerged from grief, which we do our utmost to avoid,” comments Robert Bly when interviewed. It is as if his heart, in being broken open, became a container for an immense divine love. “I am so small I can barely be seen,” wrote Rumi. “How can this great love be inside of me?”

Rumi’s message of love described by Rumi: Poet of the Heart is so profound and essential it has the power to touch the soul within each of us. “Everyone loves Rumi. He has no enemies,” someone comments in Reiss’s film. “I fly with Rumi. I forget I am on the earth,” says another. It is a wonderful and revealing irony that in this time of widespread “Islamophobia,” Rumi, an Islamic mystic, should be the best-selling poet in America. He touches a universal nerve. The lesson to learn is this: if we can reach into our hearts and see the world through the eyes of a poet like Rumi, we can form bonds that unite us, whatever our culture or religion. Peace is the natural by-product of this experience. War, on the other hand, thrives on fear and division. “If loving everyone is too much to ask,” says Reiss, paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut, “at least we should respect each other and maybe occasionally it will turn into love.”

“Love is the religion. The universe is the book,” says Coleman Barks, quoting a Sufi master. Stafford wrote on behalf of “the unknown good in our enemies,” comments one of his friends in the film.

Can the actions of one individual or a few well-chosen words really make a difference in this large chaotic world? Reiss believes so. On the website for Every War has Two Losers, he includes this quote from Stafford: “Every thought re-orders the universe.” And at the end of our conversation, he passes on this gem of wisdom from folksinger Pete Seeger. Seeger would say that life is like a seesaw and each of us is a grain of sand. It’s important which side of the seesaw you put your grain of sand. You never know which grain will be the one that tips it in the right direction.

Haydn Reiss will be visiting Iowa in spring 2010. Watch for upcoming announcements of his talk and film screenings.

For more information on both films and to watch trailers, visit www.rumipoet.com for Rumi, and www.everywar.com for Stafford.

To read more of William Stafford’s writings visit http://williamstaffordarchives.org/.

Tony Ellis is a Fairfield-based writer and poet. He blogs regularly at www.iowasource.com. To read more of his work, visit www.tonyellis.com. This article appears as the cover story of the December 2009 issue.

Also see Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford and A Fascinating Approach to Peace.

A Fascinating Approach to Peace

October 19, 2009

NewsBlaze

Published: October 18, 2009

Letter to the Editor

A Fascinating Approach to Peace

Australia Needs a Defence System Beyond “Extended Deterrence”

Dear News Blaze editors:

Thank you for posting this intelligently written Op-Ed piece. Here are my comments for your consideration.

When asked about his new film, EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS, a documentary based on the journals of American poet William Stafford, award-winning producer/director Haydn Reiss suggested it would be very satisfying to think that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of “How did I come to believe that?”

This Op-Ed, Australia Needs a Defence System Beyond “Extended Deterrence” is a fascinating approach to peace, one that should be seriously considered. I’ve just seen Mr. Reiss’s new film about war and peace, and this deeper solution is something that would resonate with both the poet and the filmmaker.

“I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do. The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is ‘Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?’ The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast,” Reiss added; “imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.”

Visit http://everywar.com to see the trailer, and think for yourself, about this question and this more rational scientific solution. At the same time, keep in mind what Einstein said about insanity—doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result; and what Schopenhauer said about the three stages that all truth passes through—”First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

In watching his own struggle with the British Empire, Gandhi echoed a similar sentiment when he observed, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I’d like to think that this ancient scientific approach founded by the great Vedic Science revivalist, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, would turn out to be a win-win situation for every nation on the planet. We now have the technology in our hands to finally fulfill this ancient hope for humanity—the ability to create and maintain permanent world peace.

Ken Chawkin
Media Relations Director
Maharishi University of Management
The David Lynch Foundation
E:  kchawkin@mum.edu
W: http://www.mum.edu
B: http://theuncarvedblog.com
W: http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org

Also see Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford and PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words.

Every War Has Two Losers, a Haydn Reiss film on poet and conscientious objector William Stafford

October 18, 2009

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS

A Poet’s Meditation on Peace

A FILM BASED ON THE JOURNALS OF WILLIAM STAFFORD

Haydn Reiss (producer/director) has been making independent films for twenty years that often focus on writers and poets. As a producer for hire his clients include organizations working on the front lines of education, the environment, culture, human rights, politics and health. In 1998, Reiss directed the award-winning RUMI: Poet of the Heart, which was seen on over 100 PBS stations and screened in festivals around the world.

EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS tells the story of how one man, William Stafford (1914-1993), chose to answer the call to war. It is a story of confronting beliefs that swirl around war — Isn’t war inevitable? Even necessary? What about the enemy? Stafford refused to fight in World War Two and served four years in camps for conscientious objectors. Later he was the winner of the National Book Award for poetry.

Other participants appearing in the film include Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, John Gorka, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Meade, W.S. Merwin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Stafford, and Alice Walker.

Director Haydn Reiss first met Stafford in 1990 and later produced a one-hour documentary, William Stafford & Robert Bly: A Literary Friendship. That film chronicles the similarities and differences between these two close friends and great poets. Approaches to writing, teaching and the meaning of poetry are all explored in this lively and engaging film. (The film is included as a DVD extra on EVERY WAR HAS TWO LOSERS)

Interview with Haydn Reiss:

Q: What’s the genesis of the film?

HR: In 2006, I read the book the film is based on and that was edited by his son Kim, “Every War Has Two Losers: William Stafford on Peace & War” (Milkweed Editions 2004). It’s fifty years of excerpts from Bill’s journals related to war and reconciliation. As with all of Stafford’s writings, there is a sense of a deep intelligence at work that stays human and available to the reader. There’s humor, heartbreak and a general sense, or assertion, that we human beings are capable of doing better with each other. I’m a father of young children and I have to believe that’s true. More importantly, I had to try and make a contribution to that effort and that’s what I attempted with the film.

Q: How does the book differ from the film?

HR: Obviously there’s a lot more writing and poems in the book than the film. The challenge was to pull journal entries that could be arranged in some form or fashion and create an overall arc to the film. A beginning, middle and end has not been much improved upon in the world of storytelling. All the material could be endlessly mixed since there was no inherent order to it other than chronological. So mix it we did some untold number of times until the cylinders seemed to line up and my editor and I had something we liked. The film brings in its own ingredients of music, images and a remarkable collection of participants.

Q: What do you hope the film does for the viewer?

HR: It would be very satisfying to think that after viewing the film you would ask yourself, at a deep level, what you really believe about war. And the follow-up question of “How did I come to believe that?” I think we have been very successfully indoctrinated into accepting that war is a given, it’s what human beings do. The distinction is, and I think this is what Stafford is saying, is “Yes, we do and can make war. But what else can we do?” The undiscovered possibilities in human behavior are what we should pursue. The die is not cast; imagination and creativity are not in short supply. That this is the real, pragmatic work of the world.

View trailer, download PBS station airings August-September 2010, bios, and purchase a DVD of Every War Has Two Losers.

Also see PEACEFUL POETS: Filmmaker Haydn Reiss on Rumi and Stafford and the Power of Words and A Fascinating Approach to Peace.

William Stafford—Something That Happens Right Now

September 22, 2009

Something That Happens Right Now

I haven’t told this before. By our house on the plains before I was born my father planted a maple. At night after bedtime when others were asleep I would go out and stand beside it and know all the way north and all the way south. Air from the fields wandered in. Stars waited with me. All of us ached with a silence, needing the next thing, but quiet. We leaned into midnight and then leaned back. On the rise to the west the radio tower blinked—so many messages pouring by. A great surge came rushing from everywhere and wrapped all the land and sky. Where were we going? How soon would our house break loose and become a little speck lost in the vast night? My father and mother would die. The maple tree would stand right there. With my hand on that smooth bark we would watch it all. Then my feet would come loose from Earth and rise by the power of longing. I wouldn’t let the others know about this, but I would be everywhere, as I am right now, a thin tone like the wind, a sip of blue light—no source, no end, no horizon.

—William Stafford

William Stafford—The Way It Is

September 5, 2009

This is my favorite William Stafford poem, and, much to my surprise, I came across a quote from the Vedic Literature with a similar theme, only it extends it to its ultimate spiritual conclusion. So I call this grouping: uncommon thread … cosmic thread.

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.

—William Stafford

————

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

————

Listen to The Way It Is performed by Daniel Sperry from his CD: William Stafford: Cutting Loose ~ A Tribute To William Stafford.

See a video of cellist and composer Daniel Sperry perform William Stafford’s poem, “The Way It Is.”

And see William Stafford’s last poem: “Are you Mr. William Stafford?” also performed by Daniel Sperry.


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