Passwords

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The source for much of the tension in many of Stafford’s finest poems is his discovery that what the human world is trying to be is frequently antithetical to what the nonhuman world—that of wildness—was, is, or would be exclusive of urbanization and technological advancement. Consequently, readily apparent in all of Stafford’s earlier collections of poetry is a traditional pastoralism, itself comprising conflicts between forest and city, between ruralism and urbanism, between childhood and adulthood. For Stafford the past always seems to glow with a richness that magnifies as superficial the features of the present. Thus one opens the present collection with certain expectations of this poet; but Stafford’s revisionary impulse is strangely muted here, his characteristic poet-as-guide role apparently abandoned.

Certainly there are here numerous typically Staffordesque poems: “The Origin of Country” and “Atavism,” to name two, the first recalling a boy’s discovery of his sense of place on the Midwest plains, and the latter celebrating the mental exercise of imagining a reversal of evolution to reconnect oneself to wilderness so a “walk through the forest strokes your fur.”

This collection, however, lacks unity and coherence. One senses that Stafford put these poems together because he had written them rather than because they belonged together for thematic or even aesthetic reasons. Praised for his artistic use of plain speech, here Stafford frequently seems to rely more on that speech than on imagery, the essential ingredient of poetry. Unfortunately the poetic bonuses in this collection are few.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVII, May 15, 1991, p. 1775.

The Christian Science Monitor. August 21, 1991, p. 16.

Library Journal. CXVI, May 15, 1991, p. 86.

The Oregonian. April 28, 1991, p. C2.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, March 29, 1991, p. 87.

Rocky Mountain News. December 22, 1991, p. M17.

Washington Times. July 15, 1991, p. F2.