Book Review: We Belong In History

We Belong In History:  Writing With William Stafford, by Oligan Press

It is pretty easy to be envious of students growing up in Oregon with an interest in poetry.  After all, such students (some of whose work is included in this book) get to study the work of William Stafford in their classes.  This may be a mixed blessing.  I remember growing up as a young person interested in poetry [1] being assigned to read various poets, although the school system where I grew up did not relish local poetry the way that Oregonian schools do, and I resented having to read poems written by others that I had not chosen for myself.  By the time I became familiar with the writings of William Stafford I was already in my 30’s and someone who appreciated in the poetry a sense of both simplicity of form and complexity of meaning that spoke to my own poetic nature and my own yearnings for both space and privacy as well as connection across the vast gulf of emotional and intellectual distance that often separates me from those around me.  While it is possible I may have appreciated these things had I been assigned to read William Stafford, I am not sure that is the case.

Be that as it may, this book does a good job at two related tasks.  For one, it takes a handful of poems by William Stafford and shows how they inspired young people to share their own voices in poetry.  Indeed, this short book of about 130 pages or so begins with some notes about the establishment of the William Stafford Classroom at West Linn High School and some reflections on the way of writing from Stafford and others.  The first part of the book looks at students writing with William Stafford on nature (creation), one of Stafford’s favorite subjects to write about, after which the same approach is taken to family and to writing about moments of time.  After some reflections on the teaching of writing the book closes with some lessons plans on writing with William Stafford that serve to detail how students can be prompted to share their own insights in poetic form.  A great many poems by young people are included here with a striking variety in approach that speak to how Stafford’s gentle approach to writing has been an inspiration to many young students.

Admittedly, I am not necessarily fond of all of the poems included here from an aesthetic standpoint.  Many of the young poets here are far less nuanced in their approach, far more determined to speak dogmatically, than was the case for Stafford himself.  Yet although there are many efforts here I did not enjoy reading from the point of view of art, I have to say that some of the poets here were very impressive.  Some of the poems in this collection wrestle with questions of loyalty and identity as well as the joys of young love and the pain of being misunderstood.  There are quite a few poems here that anyone would be happy to have written at any age, and even for those whose poetry I did not like as much, I would wish for them all to take writing as a practice and to make it part of their regular habits as writing is a personal habit of mine, and that they would continue to revise their lives and silence their own inner critics enough to create works of art that may inspire and encourage others as well.  One can see that the students and teachers included here greatly enjoyed Stafford’s approach to writing poetry, and hopefully his poems and approach catch on far beyond the state lines of Oregon, as Stafford is a poet who deserves to be better known.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/04/28/why-i-write/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/05/20/sonnets-of-a-wounded-soul/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/09/05/book-review-the-collected-poems-of-emily-dickinson/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/08/12/book-review-poets-of-the-civil-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/11/05/book-review-one-hundred-and-one-famous-poems/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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