Monday, September 9, 2013

Words of wisdom from my favorite poet (and his mother)

I'm at my computer about to start a new writing project ... wondering what I'm going to say.  Those first word are always the hardest to find.  Then I remember the advice William Stafford gave to his writing students.  

Stafford was a heckuva prolific poet.  He wrote every morning.  When he died at the age of 79, he left those of us who love to read him: 100,000 pages of letters (I have several of my own from him), 15,000 photographs (he sent me a photo he took of me on the sly the one and only time we met), AND 20,000 pages of daily writings from 1952-1993.  

Back to Stafford's advice.  He simply didn't believe in writer's block.  He would tell his students, "if you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going."  Keep going.  Good advice.

One of my (many) favorite Stafford poems is the one he wrote the morning he died August 28th, 1993:

"Are you Mr. William Stafford?"

"Are you Mr. William Stafford?"
"Yes, but ...."

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that's when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That's when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

"It's for the best," my mother said--"Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good."
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone.  All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray; trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can't tell when strange things with meaning
will happen.  I'm [still] here writing it down
just the way it was.  "You don't have to 
prove anything," my mother said.  "Just be ready
for what God sends."  I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again.  It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday.  And the sun came,
It came.

So, words of advice from William Stafford and his mother: Keep going and just be ready for what Gods sends. 

Footnote:  "Are you Mr. William Stafford?" can be found on page 46 in The Way It Is published by Graywolf Press in 1998. 


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