9 April 2012
William Stafford’s “What Is It Like”
Ask Me (While it’s still fresh on My Mind)
illiam Stafford’s essay about poetry almost seems to write off the idea of craft as an unworthy son of creativity. He depicts poetry as almost nonexistent, “the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye”; something that if not caught with quick and agile reflex will fade back into a dark needle. There is, although, a bridge of relation he builds with the content of thought and the process of writing (in which he uses to argue against the craft). He flirts with many ideas, but perhaps it’s the relation he flirts with the most as he depicts his own process of writing, “It is like fishing, but I do not wait very long”. He explains writing as if it’s ubiquitously part of this universe, subtle; like an undiscovered dimension.
Being much of a messy and conditional writer, myself; I felt connected to Stafford’s thoughts springing to life. He proposes the development of ideas: “I am often baffled about what ‘skill’ has to do with the precious little area of confusion when I do not know what I am going to say and then I find out what I am going to say”. Where do these ideas come from? Going back to the dimension concept, perhaps ideas are always and never present (inconsistently at the same time) for us to grab and adjust. Stafford argues for the trigger word, or the process of one thing leading to the next, “I must get into action and not let anything stop me”. During this ceremonial downpour, he denounces worrying about grammar—or anything for that matter—and he stresses on discovery.
That’s what it’s all about—discovery—it’s what everybody’s waiting for. It’s a new perspective, a new story, an unheard of comparison. From birth, poetry (fiction, essays—creative writing) nests in the very tree of discovery, and oh what a burden for the conditional poet! Conditional because discovered ideas almost never take the form of words initially, and conditional because the human mind is condensed in such a small container; the five senses are only the tip of the ice-berg, and the sea is rising. There are feelings, places, and events so subtle and so clever that they almost invariably get touched.
Recently, I was driving back to the community college from Star Valley where I celebrated Easter with my family. On a stretch of road badged at sixty-five, I was behind a faded gray car and he seemed to be slowing up just a bit. I got close enough to where I could see his silhouette, and he rubbed his head with his right hand slowly as he drove. The road was a typical residential stretch of nothing, and it was on this road that I sped up to seventy-five to pass him. As I did, I could see the car off to the right from the left lane, and then I merged in front. Instantly I looked in my rear view mirror—boom—the car was gone. I slammed on my breaks and scanned the deserted road; no turn offs—nothing—this guy had vanished into thin air. What does this mean? Does it mean anything? Is it the event of the disappearing car, or is it my own sheepish reaction? Perhaps it merely requires the right amount attention.