William (Edgar) Stafford 1914–
American poet, essayist, and editor.
Stafford is one of America's most accomplished contemporary poets. His writing is marked by a mature vision and by the calm manner in which he probes beneath the surface of everyday life "to find," in his words, "what the world is trying to be." Stafford was born and raised in Kansas and has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1948; the dramatic simplicity of the landscape of these regions often provides the material from which his images are formed. Critics occasionally note that his poetry has changed little since his first volume, West of Your City (1960). Samuel Hazo remarks: "Like a good tree of the northwest, Stafford has grown in place."
Stafford's second collection, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), received a National Book Award. The title of this collection suggests what Roberta Berke calls Stafford's "journey to the interior: both to the interior of [his] native America and to the primitive [interior of his own mind]."
Stories That Could Be True (1977) contains new poems and gathers together poems from Stafford's previous volumes including West of Your City, Traveling Through the Dark, The Rescued Year (1966), Allegiances (1970), and Someday, Maybe (1973). Central to all of these works is Stafford's preoccupation with the past, his exploration of the conflict between technological society and human spirituality, and his Whitmanesque quest for unity. Stafford's own childhood figures prominently, as do his political and social concerns.
Stafford's recent collection, A Glass Face in the Rain (1982), is written with the same attention to the natural cadences of language and directness of approach that have marked his writing throughout his career. Stafford's mode varies from more conventional verse dependent on rhyme to informal poems with lines which read almost like prose, but always the poems are unadorned and infused with a clarity composed of quietness and strength. Critics sometimes find fault with Stafford's understated manner, noting that his simple, calm approach, when unsuccessful, falls flat. When Stafford's poems succeed, however, most critics are impressed with the power and serenity of his subdued poetic voice.
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)