At the end of William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual To Read To Each Other,” the poet writes:
“For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”
It is always interesting to see the friendships that writers form with each other. William Stafford had a notable friendship with Robert Bly, a fellow poet with a different personality but with a shared interest. In many ways, the two poets complemented each other nicely; Stafford tranquil and with an elegant simplicity, still waters running deep in the vein of Emily Dickinson, with Bly flowery and ornate like a more contemporary Whitman. Likewise, Stafford was shy and reflective, while Bly was outspoken and expansive. Yet the two made good friends because of their shared respect for each other and their shared love of poetry. Those who are creative and artistic often long for their art to be a part of a community, to have some kind of larger meaning and significance merely beyond our own selves.
It is not an uncommon thing for creative people to desire the company and comradeship of other artists of like approach. One tends to find creative people as contemporaries who are also creative. David and Solomon had creative authors like Ethan and Heman the Ezrahites and Asaph, from among the Levites, all of whom composed among the most moving and enduring of biblical poems. William Shakespeare had Fletcher and Marlowe. Some artists, like the Hudson River School or the Pre-Raphaelites, are known for the groups that they were a part of, for their deep friendships and partnerships, which authors inspiring each other to new heights. In contrast to friends who serve to drag us down , these sorts of friends form a mutual appreciation and encouragement society but also provide thoughtful and reflective and honest commentary, as well as different perspectives that help to enrich our own views.
As a writer, it is not surprising that I should have a lot of creative friends, whether they are creative in terms of music or writing or art. Although there are certain genres I am more familiar with and more comfortable with than others, I am in general appreciative of and sensitive to art in general, and that tends to lead to friends who share that same sort of artistic sensibility. There seems to be, at some level, some sort of community that is beneficial (and perhaps even necessary) to encourage great art. Sometimes this community is formed because of religious ties, professional association, location, or happenstance. Once a critical mass of people is thrown together with similar interests and inclinations and a desire to encourage each other and enjoy the research or creativity of others, then the end result is generally some sort of group or society, some hub that provides the infrastructure of shared creation.
On some fundamental level, though, this creativity depends on honesty and openness, not only to creating art from the experiences and meditations of life, but also to those people who are traveling with us along the highways and byways of life, an openness to their hopes and dreams, their fears and longings. It requires a willingness and an ability to express ourselves and to provide encouragement to others as we happen to, to share our vision and our worldview and to find a group of people whose judgment and perceptiveness we respect and appreciate. This is not always easy to find, but it is immensely worthwhile, for the darkness around us is deep, and to share the light with others makes a big difference in the lives that we live, an opportunity to improve the world that is precious and all too fragile.