Poet William Stafford on Journals, Permission, and “So What Are You Working On These Days?”

William Stafford (1914–1993) was already 48 years old when he published his first book of poems, which went on to win the National Book Award in 1963. Just something to keep in mind. And he had great handwriting, as above.

Here are two of his poems that relate to creativity, notebooks, and permission:

What’s in My Journal
Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine. 

Nobody Cares
Nobody cares if you stop here.  You can
look for hours, gaze out over the forest.
And the sounds are yours too—take away
how the wind either whispers or begins to
get ambitious.  If you let the silence of
afternoon pool around you, that serenity
may last a long time, and you can take it
along.  A slant sun, mornings or evenings,
will deepen the canyons, and you can carry away
that purple, how it gathers and fades for hours.
This whole world is yours, you know.  You can
breathe it and think about it and dream it after this
wherever you go.  It’s all right.  Nobody cares.

I also really like his response in this 1971 interview to a question along the lines of the ubiquitous, “So what are you working on these days?”

“I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along. So I inhale and exhale. I experience, write poems, get now and then great feelings of being on the edge of writing something that reverberates through my own self and that’s very interesting. But I don’t have any big or sustained project or any ending revelation that I can tell you about.”

“Nobody Cares” from the collection Crossing Unmarked Snow (1981), “What’s in My Journal” from The Methow River Poems (1996). Image courtesy William Stafford Archives.