I read a lot of William Stafford. Not just his poems, but his essays, his words, things he says. Things he talks about.
Here he is on the solitary nature of art: “I have a feeling that art is something you do yourself, and that any time you turn the decisions over to someone else you’re postponing, at best, your own development. The atmosphere of the workshop should be that of trying out one’s own work and accepting the signals from others but not accepting the dictation of others because that is a violation of the spirit of art. Art can’t be done by somebody else, it has got to be done by the artist.”
And here, Stafford on how the way you live…changes what you write: “I think you create a good poem by revising your life . . . by living the kind of life that enables good poems to come about. It’s much more productive, much more healthful, to feel you are embarked on a writing career in which the way you live your life has something to do with the kind of poems you write.”
He talks about the effects of language and poetry: “I think language does bring us together. Fragile and misleading as it is, it’s the best communication we’ve got, and poetry is language at its most intense and potentially fulfilling. Poems do bring people together.”
And finally, on perceptions of poetry: “How come people aren’t interested in poetry? It’s because they’ve compartmentalized their minds. Maybe it’s our fault that they feel that poems only appear in literary magazines. Poetry is everywhere.”
We have compartmentalized our minds. Even when we think we haven’t. It’s insidious, something that happens…without our being aware of it.
And he’s also right. About poetry being everywhere.
And nowhere more so than in the words of this poem he wrote, that I come back to, in the darkness of winter night…and in the cold, clear light of day.
Darker, Brighter, Farther
When the tree grows, and the limbs
are already grown, they are left
out there bright in the sun.
You don’t see the roots but you know
that they’ve climbed down in their dark,
dark place, in their slow wind.
And then, even farther, wherever
it goes, deeper than roots,
brighter than the sun–the real tree:
Spread out for all,
William Stafford died on August 28, 1993.
But his words are still with us.
Spread out for all.