The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

By William Stafford (1914–1993); Graywolf Press; @ 1998; 254 pages.

All the poets I know have said they like William Stafford. The book everyone knows is Writing the Australian Crawl. It’s the inspirational how-to book for poets and writers. Stafford is from the Midwest. He was a conscientious objector during World War II. He moved to the Northwest and taught and wrote and traveled. Some might say he was a workaholic, and certainly he was prolific, rising every morning around 4 a.m. to write. He wrote more than 50 books and more than 3,000 poems. He won the National Book Award for Traveling Through the Dark.

I like William Stafford too, but after a full book of poems, he remains an enigma. After I read Mary Oliver’s poems, I felt I knew Mary Oliver; the same was true for Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and even Tomas Transtormer. But William Stafford, for me, is just out of reach. Maybe the complicated simplicity of Collins has me spoiled. All the same, when I read Stafford, I remember cicadas, open fields of diverse species (not monocultures), and why I once thought of Oregon as a magical paradise. I become wistful and want to hit the road.

Poems I especially liked included:

  • Easter Morning

    American poet William Stafford (1914-1993)
    American poet William Stafford (1914-1993) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • You and Art
  • One Evening
  • Afterwards
  • Sayings of the Blind
  • The Way It Is
  • Big Bang
  • Wovoka’s Witness (3)
  • Things in the Wild Need Salt
  • Accountability   !!!
  • At the Playground
  • The Little Girl by the Fence at School
  • At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border!
  • As Me
  • One Home
  • (Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.)
  • Ceremony
  • Circle of Breath
  • At the Bomb Testing Site
  • Outside
  • In the Oregon Country
  • In Response to a Question
  • Lit Instructor
  • Glances
  • Some Shadows
  • Back Home
  • Fifteen
  • Recoil
  • The Animal That Drank Up Sound
  • Bess
  • Holcomb Kansas
  • A Sound from the Earth
  • Things That Happen
  • So Long
  • Freedom
  • The Coyote in the Zoo
  • Meditation
  • West of Here
  • Coyote
  • That Year
  • Dropout
  • Some Remarks When Richard Hugo Came
  • A Wind From a Wing
  • Old Prof
  • Poetry
  • Men
  • In the All Verbs Navaho World
  • Malheur before Dawn
  • Freedom of Expression
  • Is This Feeling About the West Real?
  • Through the Junipers
  • It Still Happens Now
  • Objector
  • How It Is
  • My Life
  • A Course in Creative Writing
  • Things I Learned Last Week
  • Incident
  • Our Kind
  • We Interrupt to Bring You
  • Pegleg Lookout
  • Burning a Book
  • Thinking About Being Called Simple by a Critic
  • Waiting in Line
  • An Oregon Message
  • Why I Am Happy
  • The Sparkle Depends on Flaws in the Diamond
  • How It Is with Family
  • Run Before Dawn
  • Remarks on My Character
  • How These Words Happened

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