Five years earlier than the publication of A Glass Face in the Rain, a collected edition of William Stafford’s poems appeared. That publication, in 1977, did not mark for Stafford, as collected editions have for some poets, the end of his writing career. Steadily, in the intervening years, Stafford has continued to publish poems in a host of periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Harvard Magazine, Iowa Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, Spectrum, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Wallace Stevens Journal. The range of readership of the sixty-two periodicals in which the poems have appeared is impressive. The range of periodicals also illustrates how solidly Stafford has established himself in the realm of American poetry, surviving through several decades when the future of poetry was in doubt, especially the 1950’s, when the poetic situation in America was torn by widely disparate points of view with the practice of the Beat Generation on the one hand and the academic poets on the other. Stafford’s poetry, which critics have suggested has caught the best of both sides, continues to demonstrate the poet’s vigor, although he is well along in life and in his career.
William Stafford is a poet who celebrates life, who finds in life veritable wonder, joyous at times, awestruck at times, and always curious. Although he is a quietly friendly man himself, his poetry, including the poems collected for the first time in this volume, shows him to be something of a loner, a person who is not afraid of solitude, who is not afraid of facing himself as his only companion. He comes through to his readers as a man who, at least figuratively, can and does stride through life vigorously and independently, but well aware of other people and their independence. In the dedication of A Glass Face in the Rain, the poet remarks of the people who travel on parallel ways, known to one another only by smoke signals, and he says that his present volume is intended especially for those people. The poet looks to them because they have accepted their lives and the world about them. We must, suggests Stafford, each go through the world leaving unmistakable, yet unobtrusive smoke signals for one another, recognizing one another’s existence without placing obligation on one another, sharing independence and respecting one another.
Little incidents in life are important; that is one of the messages Stafford’s poetry frequently suggests, even insists, to the reader. For example, in the first poem of the collection, “How It Began,” he portrays carefully, vividly, in ten lines of controlled verse, the taking into his care and to a friend’s home of a litter of black, white, and gray puppies, blind and hungry, after their mother had died. He rejoices in the living quality of the puppies and passes that enthusiasm for life on to the reader. Part 1 of the volume is entitled “A Touch on Your Sleeve” and includes an individual poem by that title. This poem also illustrates the poet’s use of the small but important experience. In the poem, a dandelion puff, carried by the air from afar, brushes a sleeve as it descends to earth, falling like snow and suggesting, writes Stafford, that life has become important again just through that tiny happening.
In part 2 of the volume, entitled “Things That Come,” Stafford has included poems that reflect the hardness of life, the cruelty that can occur in the human experience. One such poem, “Murder Bridge,” seems to reflect an incident that happened in the poet’s home state of Oregon...
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