When to comes to writing, I find some of my greatest inspiration in the words of poet William Stafford, who spent the first half of his life in Kansas. Here’s some of my favorite quotes from his books on writing, Writing the Australian Crawl, The Answers Are In the Mountains, Crossing Unmarked Snow and his son’s (write Kim Stafford) biography about him, Early Mornings.
“Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye. You can be too well prepared for poetry. A conscientious interest in it is worse than no interest at all, as I believe Frost used to say. It’s like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can’t see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there.
If people around you are in favor, that helps poetry to be, to exist. It disappears under disfavor. There are things, you know, human things, that depend on commitment; poetry is one of those things. If you analyze it away, it’s gone. It would be like boiling a watch to find out what makes it tick.
If you let your thought play, turn things this way and that, be ready for liveliness, alternatives, new views, the possibility of another world – you are in the area of poetry. A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu. Anyone who breathes is in the rhythm business; anyone who is alive is caught up in the imminences, the doubts mixed with the triumphant certainty, of poetry.”
“Every person, if pitched right, meets things with a song – a just right resonance.”
“Speaking of writing, I usually welcome all kinds of impulses and ideas, not making an effort, during that first movement of encounter, to restrict the cadence or pace or flow of the language. The feel of composition is more important than any rule or prescribed from. Swimmers after much practice can achieve a sense of catching hold of the water; the hand enters quickly and quickly adjusts to ‘the catch,’ the optimum angle and sweep for propulsion. I believe that the speaker and writer can cultivate that kind of readiness to accept and use the feel of the language.”
“Treat the world as if it really existed.”
“What’s on the page is more important than who is the writer.”
“Of all places, a workshop requires of me an absolute commitment to the text prescribed. How deep can I read? What profound realizations can come from this evidence? It is more than intention: — it is revelation.”
“What students write is not good or bad – it’s evidence.”
“The adjective is today our enemy. Salesmen, politicians, soliciting phonies over-use them: today’s writers preserve austerity about them; e.g., Dickinson’s ‘I heard a fly buzz’ – how far do you read into the poem before you reach an adjective?”
“A poem knows where you already are, and it nails you there.”
“Always do your writing in the wilderness.”
“Language can do what it can’t say.”
“A writer must write the bad poems in order to approach the good ones – finicky ways will dry up the sources.”
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 beautify.
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.
“Harness all sled dogs.”
“I don’t want to write good poems. I want to write inevitable poems – to write the things I will write, given who I am.”
“Yesterday in a discussion….students asked whether an artist had to be a rebel. My impulse was to say that it is the society which the artist feels to be rebelling. I feel that I am a Greek chorus – speaking deliberately and measuredly the central truths of things, while all around me people – bankers, generals, kings, my children, everyone – all speak the wildest kind of impulsive, mistake things.”
“Understanding too soon is overrated.”
“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. . . Back in school, from the first when I began to try to write things, I felt this richness. One thing would lead to another; the world would give and give. Now, after twenty years or so of trying, I live by that certain richness, an idea hard to pin down, difficult to say, and perhaps offensive to some. For there are strange implications to it. One implication is the importance of just plain receptivity.”
“You can legislate freedom of speech, but you have to learn how to accomplish freedom in speech.”
Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
And you live in a world where stumbling
always leads home.