Book Review: A Glass Face In The Rain

A Glass Face In The Rain:  New Poems, by William Stafford

This book of poems was the last one published by a major publisher (Harper & Row) before the poet’s death in 1993, and that sense of finality gives these poems a very melancholy edge.  Those who are familiar with the writings of William Stafford [1] will know that he wrote quite a few books over the course of his life and has even been fortunate enough for people to write some books about him.  And those who think that the man perhaps wrote too much for anyone to bother reading will likely not be greatly intrigued by the way that this book is filled with a great many attempts at sending a message out into a great void of silence and hoping for someone to send a message back that they heard and appreciated it, combined with a sort of diffidence about his work being worth reading and remembered, and also with a recognition of his burden in listening to the efforts of others to communicate the burdens of their own existence to lighten the load.  This is a book that is filled with the mournful attitude of someone nearing the end of their days and looking to see if their existence mattered, and trying to unburden their own heavy hearts while there is time left to do so.

This short book of poetry is divided into five parts, given the following titles:  “A Touch On Your Sleeve,” “Things That Come,” “Revelations,” “Troubleshooting,” and “The Color That Really Is.”  Each of these parts of the book is introduced with a poem that weaves a story about Stafford’s attempts at communication with the wider world around him.  The poems themselves are often heavily reflective.  One poem, for example, looks at the author’s family and ponders what it is like to be someone who wonders about how to fix the brokenness of the world without knowing how, and another looks at his memory of not bringing his brother again to an ice hockey game in the frozen Kansas wilderness after he cries about it as a seven year old.  Other poems discuss the creeping shadows of one’s dark side or beautiful scenes of creation or humility about one’s greatness and worth in the face of a recognition of one’s folly and ridiculousness.  The poems are short, as Stafford’s writing was in general, but as might be expected, quite a few of them carry substantial weight.

It is pretty obvious what sort of audience would like this book.  If you are fond of Stafford’s poetry, and can find a volume of this book that remains from its published form in 1991, this is a book that will give you plenty more poems to be fond of from William Stafford.  This is not the sort of obvious work to introduce yourself to Stafford’s poetry–for that it would probably be best to choose one of his many compilations.  But if you already know Stafford’s characteristic interest in exploring memory, the burdens of trying to communicate across the silence of the combined awkwardness of oneself and the people one wishes to communicate with, the burdens of life that come from our childhood and reflective odes to the beauties of creation, and you appreciate and maybe even share those concerns, then this book is certainly one that will be welcome.  The author even manages to reflect some on the creation of poetry, making a couple of these poems pretty meta in their questioning whether suffering is necessary for art or what Stafford would have been like if he could have been like noted poem Wallace Stevens, and if you like Stafford as a poet you will likely appreciate those efforts as well.

[1] See, for example:

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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1 Response to Book Review: A Glass Face In The Rain

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Delights And Shadows | Edge Induced Cohesion

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