William Stafford set a standard for kindness, generosity, humor, and for poetry that was accessible and lyrical. A conscientious objector during WW II, he began writing poetry in a C.O. camp. He wrote a poem each day, beginning before dawn, and kept up this practice every day of his life. He died in August, 1993.
When a young literary magazine editor would ask him for some poetry after a reading, Bill would hand the sheaf of poems to the editor. He never said no. When I wrote to him and asked for an essay on May Sarton, he answered in the next mail with a nice letter saying yes--and the essay was enclosed!
The essay he sent was too long, my publisher said. I cringed, but asked him to shorten it, and in the next mail, there it was, shorter. But not better. He and I worked together on the finished piece, which is in "A House of Gathering: Poets on May Sarton's Poetry." (UT Press, 1993). He took criticism from younger writers, a humble and workmanlike poet. We all loved him.
Why am I thinking about him now? I've been dealing with a few nationally known poets who can only be described as stingy with their work. They are guarding their legacies. They don't answer email in a timely way. Perhaps this is normal and admirable and even wise.
I prefer William Stafford's way of being in the world. He taught me a lot about poetry, about building a body of work, about self-forgiveness. He gave me a model of how to interact with younger writers and with editors.
His essay on May Sarton was called "Available to the World." That describes Stafford. Wallace Stevens' term for poetry was "The Necessary Angel"--that was Stafford, too.
If karma exists, then the underwear of the stingy poets will pinch them!
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.