One of my favorite January rituals is attending the annual birthday celebration for William Stafford, Oregon's Poet Laureate (1914 - 1993). Each year people gather at our local Tsunami Bookstore to read Stafford's poems and poems of their own, plus share personal memories of the man.
I met and heard William Stafford only once while at a men's workshop with poet, Robert Bly in 1991 at Marylhurst College. It was quite the scene when the tall, brash (some say, arrogant) Robert Bly introduced us to the quiet, humble poet from Lake Oswego, Oregon. Stafford read a few of his poems and answered questions from the crowd of men. I remember feeling the warmth and love between the two poets who appeared to be so different from one another.
After hearing William Stafford, I starting buying and reading his many books of poetry as well as books about the man. Eventually, I began writing my own poems and, most enthusiastically, haiku poems*. When I started facilitating men's groups and workshops myself, I incorporated poetry into the time men shared together.
At the "Healing the Hearts of Men" weekend workshops we did at Heceta House on the Oregon Coast, I taught men the haiku form (three lines with five, seven, five syllables), then all of us headed out alone for an afternoon to see what poems emerged from our time in the beautiful natural world. Later, when we returned to our circle of men, each man shared one or more of the haiku poems they wrote during their time alone. It was a sweet, heartwarming (and often uproarious) experience as the poems were shared -- one of the highlights of our time together for me and other men in the circle (many of whom had never written a poem or, more often than not, had learned to hate poetry in school).
This year at the birthday celebration I selected three short poems by William Stafford from his collection, "The Way It Is." I read "Your Life," "Yes," and the book's title poem:
"There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding,
You don't ever let go of the thread."
With each year that passes, the poem has greater meaning for me. And I'm grateful that I still have the ability to read William Stafford's poems to people in our community who love his poems.
* NOTE: My enthusiasm for haiku (and inspiration from William Stafford's habit of writing daily poems in the early morning) led me to challenge myself to write a poem every day for a year (2011). I figured I could at least write three lines of poetry each day if Stafford could write so many daily poems for years. And I followed his advice "to lower my standards" to accomplish the task! If you're interested, they're posted at www.haikubytodd.blogspot.com.
("The Way It Is" is copyright by the Estate of William Stafford and appears in the book published by Graywolf Press. The photo was taken by Guy Weese who shared it for my use in a poetry book).