by Kelley Morehouse
William Stafford’s writings speak more deeply and clearly with every passing year. And every year there are more celebrations of the poet, with readings of his poems. He was born January 17, 1914, and grew up on the Kansas prairie. A conscientious objector, he was a pacifist but not passive, according to his son, poet Kim Stafford. He moved to Oregon in 1948 and taught at Lewis and Clark College.
Nearly every morning of his writing life, until his passing in 1993, he got up early, sat down with pencil and paper and started a new poem.
Kelley Morehouse describes her experience reading William Stafford’s poem “You and Art,” and writing a poem in response:
“I didn’t study the poem in depth and I didn’t fully understand what he was doing with it. He talks about mistakes in life. There is a forgiving tone from the very beginning, ‘Your exact errors make a music’….”
by Kelley Morehouse
You’ve walked the tightrope. Sliding
between order and chaos, the movement
was smoother some days
and other days arrived
like a cyclone
beating at your feet.
You’ve slipped down those narrow
passages and still emerged
an outlined shape
in the haze.
Clues were few
of the spring-
green side of things.
Stones you followed
led to peace-filled trees,
to dimensions ever-present, finding
a way of breaking through.
I see, comparing my poem with Stafford’s, that I have some parallel ideas and images, and that I too use the “you” pronoun. We both start out by observing the ways we fumble through life. He shows that much is unknown in your earlier years, but it works out to your benefit, making you who you are. In my poem I show the slow progress of becoming formed and visible, understanding who “you” are.
In Stafford’s ending, you make important discoveries; in mine too, you are making these discoveries; you are breaking through to see more of the whole picture of what it means to be human. The uniqueness of Stafford’s poem is that it clearly shows the “you” of every being as creation, as unfolding, as art, and thus the title “You and Art.”
Kelley adds: We hope to see you at the Silverton Poetry Festival, February 24th to 26th. For information go to silvertonpoetry.net.
You can read Wm. Stafford’s “You and Art” at www.theuncarvedblog.com.