Book Review: An Oregon Message

An Oregon Message, by William Stafford

It seems somewhat strange in retrospect that Stafford would publish a book with a title of An Oregon Message and then be upset five years later that he was being labeled as a regional poet.  I mean, if I saw a NY singer-songwriter release a song like “New York State Of Mind” or listened to a rock band from Los Angeles called LA Gunz, I would consider such acts to be regional ones.  To be sure, William Stafford had far too much experience living in and traveling through areas of the United States to write about Oregon alone even on most Oregonish of his books of poetry (more on that later), and this book is by no means only about Oregon, if such a thing was possible from a writer like Stafford.  Even so, this book finds Stafford in a place where he clearly sees himself as a voice of authority and this book at times sounds like the well-meaning advice that the old give the young that often seems so much better in retrospect than it does at the time such advice is often given without request or appreciation.

This is, by the standards of Stafford’s poetry books, a relatively long volume of five parts totaling 143 pages.  Obviously, this is not a long book overall, but it is clear that Stafford had a lot of poems he wanted to reach the wide world of poetry readers (?) and saw this work as a good way to do it.  As a fan of his writings, I have no complaint about that, and quite a few of the poems, like the lovely and melancholy “Four Oak Leaves” and the dark “The Bush From Mongolia” I have read anthologized in other works.  The book is divided into five parts:  “The Book About You,” “Serving With Gideon,” “A Writer’s Fountain Pen Talking,” “Saint Matthew And All,” and “The Big Picture.”  Some of the poems deal explicitly with Oregon, like the titular poem, “Owls At The Shakespeare Festival,” and “The Rodeo at Sisters, Oregon.”  Other poems find Stafford in a reflective mood, encouraging others to take up the pen of writing and thinking about family, about what happens when people are reticent about speaking their voice and sharing their perspective, and reflecting on personal, professional, and literary criticism.  Stafford even finds the place here to write a poem from the point of view of paper, rock, and scissors respectively and to write an “Ode to Garlic.”

Let us say, then, that even when Stafford is at his most preachiest and his most obviously regional that he still has a great deal to say that is of wide interest and that what he has to share is thoughtful and reflective.  This is a book of a writer growing old and pondering the power that is still left in his pen, and wondering if it is too late to send a message to those who are bothering to read it about what matters most in life and what it means to be committed to writing personally about one’s life and one’s point of view.  To be sure, not everyone will listen to a voice from the past and not everyone will be able to relate to the author’s desire for the reader to learn how to lose gracefully, but this is the book of someone who lived long and pretty well, at least by human standards, and so there is a great deal here to appreciate even despite the varied nature of the poet’s subject matter and register, ranging from playful to entirely in earnest.

[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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3 Responses to Book Review: An Oregon Message

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Place In The Country | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: An Encounter With A Frozen Prey Animal | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Rodeado | Edge Induced Cohesion

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