Traveling Through The Dark, by William Stafford
It is said that there are more poets than there are readers of poetry, and if this statement is even close to being true that is a great shame, especially in the case of the wonderful poetry of William Stafford . In this short selection of deeply heartfelt and generally brief poems we see the reflections of Stafford’s physical and mental travels, his reflections on creation as well as his musings on death. Many of these poems read like distillations of the sort of stories you would tell to people while undertaking a road trip or while sitting around a campfire and trying to find the most unsettling but deeply thoughtful stories one could summon up from the banks of one’s memory and imagination. Some people may be able to do this through their own resources as poets and storytellers, but even for those who think that they lack this gift of reflection, these poems (and others) by William Stafford provide a thoughtful and sustained example of what a poet can create who views the incidents of life as the raw material for reflections on life and death, love and hate, and the inexorable passage of time as well as the power of choice and the refusal to choose.
This collection of poems is about 100 pages long and is divided into three parts. The first part of the book is entitled: In Medias Res and includes such excellent poems as “Thinking For Berky,” the opening title poem, “The Research Team in the Mountains,” and other poems that reflect upon life and the relationship between mankind and creation. Among the more dryly comic poems in this section is a discussion of “The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report,” as well as the poet’s thoughts “On Quitting a Little College,” both of which reflect on the relationship between the intellectual and material world. The second part of the book is titled “Before The Big Storm” and it looks at life and death and animals and even a couple of poems about museums, hardly the most common source material for poetry. Here again there are dryly humorous nods to places and situations, such as a reflection on memory called “The Only Card I Got on My Birthday Was from an Insurance Man,” which is definitely a memorable title. The third and final part of the book is called “Representing Far Places” and it looks at vacations and vocations and the distance between people and each other as well as people and creation, and even perhaps people and themselves.
One thing that makes the poetry of William Stafford so remarkable is the way that he pays attention to that which a lot of people pass over in embarrassed silence. Whether dealing with the ridicule and awkwardness endured by children who are “different” in school by virtue of missing parents or being a bit slow to catch what others grasp rapidly. Over and over again in these poems we see the perspective of the underdog, whether it is the indigent poet or the chicken struggling in a death match against the weasel or a traveler on a road trying not to get run over by drivers while trying to dispose of the body of a dead doe with an unborn fawn inside of her and pondering on the wasted life that means. These poems are rich in detail but also compact, not trying the patience of the reader but providing enough specificity to spark the reader into thoughts and reflections of his or her own. These are relatively contemporary poems that are well-worth the time and effort it takes to read them and that richly repay such study and reflection.
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