On Friday August 30th, just a few days ago, Ireland, the world really, lost a beloved poet. And just before that happened I was planning this post to remember possibly my most favorite American poet William Stafford, who passed away the same week, on August 28th twenty years ago. I cannot say there are many similarities in their work, but they both were remembered as kind and gracious. And I think both liked to appear simpler than they really were.
I was at university in the flatlands of central Indiana, missing my Pennsylvania hills when I found his collection An Oregon Message. And I devoured it. It’s sad to realize that now that we have access to things like Google Earth, it’s much harder (except for those few spots where you can only zoom in so far) to say as the title poem of the collection asserted:
. . . Those moon rocketshave missed millions of secretplaces! . . .
How it tilts while you are thinkingand then you know. How it makes no differencefor a long time–then it does.
The text of the entire poem is hard to find online, buried in a larger academic text, but I think I’ll do a reading of it here soon. While a lot of his poems are searchable on the web, many are impossible to find, and you really should be heading to the library or local bookshop to pick up a few volumes of his poems for yourself. Not just the anthologies, though they are helpful for an overview. But there is really nothing like digging into a collection that a poet put together and specifically placed those poems in one grouping. It’s often a look into a time and place that individual poems only give you glimpses of, as through a knot-hole in the fence of a larger work.
At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border
by 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.
From The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems
Copyright 1975, 1998 Estate of William Stafford
For the text of “Your Life” from the October, 1987 edition of Poetry Magazine, click here.
- When the Bird Sings Very Close: Two Poems by Seamus Heaney (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- Where I Come From Poem: Traveling through the Dark by William Stafford (mikaylaj95.wordpress.com)