A Note from William Stafford
Is poetry a way "to bring strangers together," as you imply in your poem "Passwords"?
I remember writing that poem. I like to say things like that to see whether they'll fly. That poem didn't come out of conviction. It was more like an experiment: how do I feel about this? Well, I think language does bring us together. Fragile and misleading as it is, it's the best communication we've got, and poetry is language at its most intense and potentially fulfilling. Poems do bring people together. And not just the people who come to a workshop. But everybody--they are addicts of poetry without knowing it. Walking down the street, someone comes out of church and says, "Oh, Bill, hello, been writing? How come some people don't pay any attention to poetry these days?" When they've just been in church with hundreds of people reciting the Psalms in responsive readings, singing the songs, responding to rhymes in the hymns. They are addicted to it. They're victims of it. And yet they come out and say, "How come people aren't interested in poetry?" It's because they have compartmentalized their minds. Maybe it's our fault that they feel that poems only appear in literary magazines. Poetry is everywhere. Here I am preaching about it. Oh, yes, I think it brings people together. When they go to church and they hear, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love," and so on, they're into poetry.