Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Note from William Stafford

The poet William Stafford was interviewed by William Young in Number 129 of The Paris Review (Winter, 1993). I think Stafford is an amazing writer--a genius, really--in terms of his productivity, in the grace and quality of his work, and in the way he lived his life. Here's what he had to say about the place of poetry in the contemporary world, a question that our current generation of poets--like so many before this one--seems obsessed with.

INTERVIEWER

Is poetry a way "to bring strangers together," as you imply in your poem "Passwords"?

STAFFORD

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.

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