Outward Bound Ideas

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Friday, February 17, 2006

44. Preface to The Way It Is by Naomi Shihab Nye

Preface by Naomi Shihab Nye to The Way It Is, New & Selected Poems by William Stafford

In our time there has been no poet who revived human hearts and spirits more convincingly than William Stafford. There has been no one who gave more courage to a journey with words, and silence, and an awakening life.
Rarely has a voice felt so intimate and so collective at once. How did he do this? An intense awareness of presence and absence permeates here. He embraced and saluted the process of working. He meandered, and valued the turns. He honored, while demystifying anything that rang of pomp. He dug in the ground. He picked things up and looked at them. He had so many frequent flier miles he could have started his own program. He answered people's letter diligently, often closing with "Adios."
He sent poems to people who asked for them. No magazine was too small for his consideration. He was marvelously funny, with a wry tip of wit, the folded poems coming out of one pocked, going back to the other. He left devotees in his wake but wouldn't have thought of them that way. He befriended the earth and its citizens most generously and attentively, at the same time remaining solitary in his countenance, intact, composed, mysterious, complete in his humble service.
There was, in William Stafford and his poetry, a profoundly refreshing, elemental life force which accepted good surprise and failure, exaltation and stumbling, with nearly equal regard.
There was, in William Stafford, a vast and necessary oxygen. If you were fortunate to encounter him in a reading hall or backwoods cabin, in a classroom or library or cafe, at the Library of Congress or on a beach, you could feel the larger air of his voice overtaking you very quickly. It was heartening, congenial, and utterly unpredictable.
If you discover his voice for the first time here, trust that his spoken voice travels through the poems indelibly. Sometimes we, the readers, feel we are coming from inside his poems. If you read them many times, aloud to yourself, slowly and carefully, savoring the pauses, you will hear. It has not left us.
William Stafford, originally from the land of Kansas, to the land of Oregon, the the widest lands of being, was a champion of language, a seeker, a deep rememberer, a purely original poet, and a beloved man. Now fiercely missed. But read these poems. That is part of it.

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