Two Poems in Honor of William Stafford by Ken Waldman
Bill Stafford, 100
Bill Stafford would never claim perfection, the neat round number. Rather, he was about edges, observation, lingering doubt, the stuff of happenstance and reflection, ease and mystery. He’d ask sly questions, answer with a slight shrug or nod. No shouts. Lines might include mountain, wind, button, trout, family. He was without pretension. If he were still alive at one hundred, I’d guess him still alert, sturdy enough to jot a few dozen early morning words. To acknowledge the day, he might have said, For the sky, a century’s not so tough. Then he’d take pen, write of cloud, weather, bird.
Sestina for William Stafford
Of course, the trick to poetry is to have pen and paper. Words on a page will make song— the words can’t help themselves. Plain ones say it better, or so I was taught by a man born and raised in Kansas,
who took plain Kansas with him in the poetry he later wrote. His parents taught him to honor both land and words. That wasn’t so hard on the plains where the grass made an easy song
for a boy who listened well, for song sang everywhere first in Kansas and then beyond. The plains later became mountain and coast. Poetry didn’t mind. The words spilled their magic, taught
him music, taught him, yes, writing was his song, that he could scribble gray words, not just shiny red ones. Kansas was good enough—and poetry would nod its head. Simple and plain
it was (though simple and plain could be profound). Poetry taught him, too, to question poetry and reinvent song, which made for a Kansas that he filled with words
like sky, sun, wind. Words that started on the plains— Hutchinson, Kansas— transported him to Oregon, and taught him to be. His enduring song: have pen, paper, and make poetry—
there are only words. He taught that plain and true made real song. A Kansas man. His avocation: poetry.
Ken Waldman is a writer with 11 books and a fiddler with nine CDs. Also a band leader and educator, since 1995 he’s often toured as Alaska’s Fiddling Poet. More at kenwaldman.com (and trumpsonnets.com). The poems here are from a manuscript to be published by Mezcalita Press.