1979 Footage of William Stafford in Scranton Resurfaces

Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) Photo from the William Stafford Archives, Lewis & Clark College
Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) Photo from the William Stafford Archives, Lewis & Clark College

Often YouTube is prone to fail for me when I get its automated suggestions of “videos to watch.” Yesterday it suggested some wonderful music tutorial videos from my sweetheart Brian from five years ago, while pushing a recent video of my friend and fellow poet Rachel Bunting’s tribute to Maxine Cumin, recently passed poetry legend, way down the list, hidden below the infinite scroll bar.

Now, I love my Brian, and I love his music, but I cannot play a piano to save my life. My piano and music theory classes were over thirty years ago, and I’ve probably forgotten more than what I had learned, so his wonderful tutorials are made for other more talented and apt. students of music.

I am however a poet who reads the poems of others out loud on both YouTube and SoundCloud. I am subscribed to Rachel’s channel, so you would think that Rachel’s video would top my list of recent “must see” content (by the way, that’s a buzzword I’m starting to hate, content. More about that another day). For more of Rachel Bunting click here.

However, from time to time YouTube really gets it right and redeems itself, like yesterday when it brought to my attention today’s share, a poetry reading from William Stafford from 1979! I nearly leaped from my chair and cheered. You see, if you read The Dad Poet much at all, you already know that this man is a hero of mine, not just in the poetry realm, but in his calm and steady stand for peace, both in the world and in the human heart. He has a connection to nature because he is an observer as well as a participant, as any reading of a handful of his poems will show.

Sunday I featured a video with photos from the Juniata River this winter, and Stafford’s poem “Ask Me.” The post was also a reflection on the beautiful life of Brian’s Aunt Cathy whose memorial we attended Friday. The scenes of the Susquehanna under ice and snow got me pondering, and nudged me to share the video here on the blog. I am tremendously grateful and humbled by the popularity of that post. Thanks so much to those of you who shared it and liked it.

Published in 1987 by William Stafford (Amazon.com photo)
Published in 1987 by William Stafford (Amazon.com photo)

While writing that post I came across a couple of other lovely poems of William Stafford’s with which I was not previously familiar. One was over at Poetreeforlife, called “Malheur at Dawn,” a stellar example of one of his one-with-nature poems. My favorite line: “Some day like this might save the world.”  The other was posted back in June at Izmansral, entitled “For You.” Please follow the links to those blogs to read the poems.

I’m sure I’ve told a bit of my own story before about falling in love with William Stafford. I was away in the flatlands of Indiana, missing my hills, ridges, waters and woods of central Pennsylvania where I had grown up. I was studying for the ministry at an early age, my young bride still back home for a month or two as she made job inquiries and preparations to join me. It was such a lonely time, but I had picked up Stafford’s book An Oregon Message at a bookstore, and somehow that “regional poet” made me feel at home, connected even to the few little tracks of forest, and the vast fields of corn and soy of central Indiana.

It’s his art of always being present and yet connected to times and places, past and future. His unique syntax and diction were intriguing enough to pull me in, catch the spell of his own way of looking at the world. I will always be grateful to him for that.

The following video is part of a project that I am delighted to have just stumbled upon, thanks to YouTube getting it right in the recommendations I mentioned above. The Lackawanna Valley Digital Archives have been converting old film to digital formats and sharing them on YouTube. Many of the videos in the Friends of the Scranton Public Library Poetry Series are from visiting poets who have become big names in modern and contemporary American poetry, including Robert Bly, Charles Simic, Lynn Emanuel, Gerald Stern, Susan Rae, W. S. Merwin, and of course William Stafford.

The video below of Stafford’s 1979 reading in Jefferson Hall at the University of Scranton is the property of the Scranton Public Library, and I am grateful that they have made it public via YouTube. Cedar Mill Newsletter in January made these recommendations of good reads from Stafford. And this marvelous piece by OPB.org is a great way to introduce yourself to the poet who would have celebrated his 100th birthday last month.

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