Thursday, April 8, 2010

William Stafford and a Place Where Words Matter

"You don't have to prove anything," my mother said.
"Just be ready for what God sends."

***William Stafford's last poem

During my freshmen at Emporia State University, my comp professor invited one of his poet friends to read to the class. The poet dressed in black, possessed wild shocks of hair, and read poems that were laced with profanity. I remember him being particularly fond of the words cock and pussy. Squeezed between his salty words were long dramatic pauses and uncomfortable eye contact with the audience. That was my first exposure to a real live poet, and I wasn't impressed.

Later that year, I gave live poetry another chance when I attended a reading by William Stafford, who was billed as a poet from the Great Plains. I was still gun shy from the first reading I experienced, but Mr. Stafford grandfatherly appearance put me at ease. Then he spoke. He didn't rely on a dramatic, booming delivery. He spoke in a quiet, unassuming voice, a characteristic of someone who was raised on the Kansas Plains. Then I started to pay attention to the words, and I realized he articulated what I felt about being a product of the Great Plains He noticed and pointed out the beauty of the Plains without scarring it with his ego.

That night was a revelation to me. We live in a world where loud, glitzy, sit-com buffoonery is often in the spotlight, but that night I watched a quiet, gentle person shine without the aid of a spotlight. At that moment I realized there would always be a place in this world for me.

I now read Mr. Stafford's poems on a regular basis. I guess, the poems are part anchor and part compass. They give me a sense of who I am and who I want to become.

Mr. Stafford's poems reaffirm that it's OK to be gentle and kind, and there are places in the world for quiet folk. Most importantly his poems remind that there's value in quiet places where words matter.

I believe, we all need a poet who speaks to us. What poet speaks to you?

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scene of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

****William Stafford from August 26, 1993


1 comment:

Jenni said...

I loved this poem. I'll have to look for more by William Stafford. He sounds like my kind of poet and person.

Langston Hughes has always been one of my favorite poets. My experiences and background may be different from his, but he had a gift for communicating his perspective, and in his poems I see more similarities between people than differences. We are more alike on the inside than our the superficial things such as background and outward appearances would lead us to believe.

I've been surprised in recent years to find that some of Walt Whitman's poems speak to me. I never liked him before I taught a homeschool poetry class and felt I had to teach his poetry.