William Stafford (1914-1993) was an earnest, perceptive, and often affecting American poet who filled his life and ours with poetry of challenge and consolation. The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems gathers unpublished works from his last year, including the poem he wrote the day he died, as well as an essential and wide-ranging selection of works from throughout his career. An editorial team including his son Kim Stafford, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, and the poet, translator, and author Robert Bly collaborated on shaping this book of Stafford's pioneering career in modern poetry. The poems in The Way It Is encompass Stafford's rugged domesticity, the political edge of his irony, and his brave starings-off into emptiness.
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About the Author
William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. After the Second World War (to which he was a conscientious objector), he earned a Ph.D. at the newly created Iowa Writer's Workshop. A longtime lecturer, workshop leader, and advocate on behalf of younger writers and readers, Stafford taught English at Lewis and Clark College from 1956 to 1979. He was awarded the National Book Award in Poetry for Traveling through the Dark. The author of over fifty books, Stafford remains one of the most beloved and widely read poets in contemporary American letters. He died in Oregon, where he had formerly served as the state's poet laureate, in 1993.
Read an Excerpt
Traveling Through The Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing; she had stiffened already, almost cold. I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason— her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, alive, still, never to be born. Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights; under the hood purred the steady engine. I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red; around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—, then pushed her over the edge into the river.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are a lot of reasons the fan base of this deceased poet keeps growing. For readers of William Stafford, it is the wisdom of his message, his clear, comprehensible prose, his quiet urgency and subtle, honest emotions. His magic lies in not trying to be anything other than who he is. Stafford can also be playful. In a body of work this size, the themes become obvious. There is a calming presence coming up from the earth and down from the stars. It's everywhere - if one is willing to do more than glance around. Our destruction of nature will come back to us someday. Time passes whether one likes it or not. War is never a matter of fate. Fear is everywhere - and something to learn from. The unassuming, metaphorical nature of Stafford's writing means that these important, timeless messages have a better chance soak into one's psyche, slow and sure. And he's not afraid to take on opposing opinions to again reflect on his place in the world: "After Arguing against the Contention That Art Must Come from Discontent" Whispering to each handhold, "I'll be back," I go up the cliff in the dark. One place I loosen a rock and listen a long time till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind- I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side or it waits and then buffets; you sag outward.... I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble by luck into a little pocket out of the wind and begin to beat on the stones with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth in silent laughter there in the dark; "Made it again!" Oh how I love this climb! -the whispering to stones, the drag, the weight as your muscles crack and ease on, working right. They are back there, discontent, waiting to be driven forth. I pound on the earth, riding the earth past the stars: "Made it again! Made it again!" "After arguing" represents the best, most enduring trait of Stafford's work: the celebration of being alone and of making your own path in life. Stafford acknowledges loneliness, pays tribute to his parents and others who died in his lifetime, but again and again finds comfort in his own company. This book provides an important sampling of Stafford's work. The excerpts from his first book "West of Your City" and his 1982 offering "A Glass Face In the Rain" particularly stand out. It is a volume that reads well all at once or anytime a calm, wise, beautiful and evocative voice is needed.