Biography of William Stafford
William Edgar Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on January 17, 1914, to Ruby Mayher and Earl Ingersoll Stafford. The eldest of three children, Stafford grew up with an appreciation for nature and books.
During the Depression the family moved from town to town as Earl Stafford searched for jobs. William helped to support the family also, by delivering papers, working in the sugar beet fields, raising vegetables, and as an electrician's mate. In 1933 Stafford graduated from high school in Liberal, Kansas, and attended Garden City and El Dorado junior colleges, graduating from the University of Kansas in 1937. In 1939 Stafford enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to begin graduate studies in Economics, but by the next year he had returned to Kansas to earn his master's degree in English.
When the United States entered World War II in 1941 Stafford was drafted before he could obtain his degree. As a registered pacifist, Stafford worked in camps and projects for conscientious objectors in Arkansas, California, and Illinois. He spent 1942 to 1946 in these work camps and was paid $2.50 per month for assigned duties such as fire fighting, soil conservation, and building and maintaining roads and trails. In 1944 while in California Stafford met and married Dorothy Frantz, the daughter of a minister of the Church of the Brethren.
Following the war Stafford taught one year at a high school, spent a year working for relief organization Church World Service, and finished his master's degree at the University of Kansas in 1947. His master's thesis, memoirs of his time spent as a conscientious objector, was published as a book of prose, Down in My Heart (Brethren Publishing House, 1947).
In 1948 Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. Though he traveled and read his work widely, he taught at Lewis and Clark until his retirement in 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, was published when Stafford was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the Poet Laureate).
Although his father appears more often in his poetry, Stafford has stated that his mother's presence and behavior influenced his writing. His poetry was strongly influenced by both the people and the plains region of his youth and young adulthood.
Stafford's poems are often deceptively simple. Like Robert Frost's, however, they reveal a distinctive and complex vision upon closer examination. Among his best-known books are The Rescued Year (1966), Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (1977), Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation (1978), and An Oregon Message (1987).
William Stafford died at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon, on August 28, 1993.
William Stafford's Works:
Published Poetry (3,000 out of 22,000)
West of Your City, Talisman Press, 1960.
Traveling through the Dark, Harper, 1962.
The Rescued Year, Harper, 1965.
Eleven Untitled Poems, Perishable Press, 1968.
Weather: Poems, Perishable Press, 1969.
Allegiances, Harper, 1970.
Temporary Facts, Duane Schneider Press, 1970.
Poems for Tennessee,(With Robert Bly and William Matthews) Tennessee Poetry Press, 1971.
In the Clock of Reason, Soft Press, 1973.
Someday, Maybe, Harper, 1973.
That Other Alone, Perishable Press, 1973.
Going Places: Poems, West Coast Poetry Review, 1974.
The Earth, Graywolf Press, 1974.
North by West, (With John Meade Haines) edited by Karen Sollid and John Sollid, Spring Rain Press, 1975.
Braided Apart (With son, Kim Robert Stafford), Confluence, 1976.
I Would Also Like to Mention Aluminum: Poems and a Conversation, Slow Loris Press, 1976.
Late, Passing Prairie Farm: A Poem, Main Street Inc., 1976.
The Design on the Oriole, Night Heron Press, 1977.
Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems, Harper, 1977.
The Design on the Oriole, Night Heron Press, 1977.
Smoke's Way (chapbook), Graywolf Press, 1978.
All about Light, Croissant, 1978.
A Meeting with Disma Tumminello and William Stafford, edited by Nat Scammacca, Cross-Cultural Communications, 1978.
Passing a Creche, Sea Pen Press, 1978.
Tuft by Puff, Perishable Press, 1978.
Two about Music, Sceptre Press, 1978.
Tuned in Late One Night, The Deerfield Press, 1978, The Gallery Press, 1978.
The Quiet of the Land, Nadja Press, 1979.
Around You, Your Horse & A Catechism, Sceptre Press, 1979.
Absolution, Martin Booth, 1980.
Things That Happen When There Aren't Any People, BOA Editions, 1980.
Passwords, Sea Pen Press, 1980.
Wyoming Circuit, Tideline Press, 1980.
Sometimes Like a Legend: Puget Sound Country, Copper Canyon Press, 1981.
A Glass Face in the Rain: New Poems, Harper, 1982.
Roving across Fields: A Conversation and Uncollected Poems 1942-1982, edited by Thom Tammaro, Barnwood, 1983.
Smoke's Way: Poems, Graywolf, 1983.
Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry,(With Marvin Bell) David Godine, 1983.
Listening Deep: Poems (chapbook), Penmaen Press, 1984.
Stories and Storms and Strangers, Honeybrook Press, 1984.
Wyoming, Ampersand Press, Roger Williams College, 1985.
Brother Wind, Honeybrook Press, 1986.
An Oregon Message, Harper 1987.
You and Some Other Characters, Honeybrook Press, 1987.
Annie-Over,(With Marvin Bell) Honeybrook Press, 1988.
Writing the World, Alembic Press, 1988.
A Scripture of Leaves, Brethren Press, 1989.
Fin, Feather, Fur, Honeybrook Press, 1989.
Kansas Poems of William Stafford, edited by Denise Low, Woodley Press, 1990.
How to Hold Your Arms When It Rains, Confluence Press, 1991.
Passwords, HarperPerennial, 1991.
The Long Sigh the Wind Makes, Adrienne Lee Press, 1991.
History is Loose Again, Honeybrook Press, 1991.
The Animal That Drank Up Sound (a children's book, illustrated by Debra Frasier), Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1992.
Seeking the Way (with illuminations by Robert Johnson), Melia Press, 1992.
My Name is William Tell, Confluence Press, 1992.
Holding Onto the Grass, Honeybrook Press, 1992, reprinted, Weatherlight Press, 1994.
Who Are You Really Wanderer?, Honeybrook Press, 1993.
The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford, edited and with an introduction by Robert Bly, HarperPerennial, 1993.
Learning to Live in the World: Earth Poems by William Stafford, Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1994.
The Methow River Poems, Confluence Press, 1995.
Even In Quiet Places, Confluence Press, 1996.
The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, introduction by Naomi Shihab Nye, Graywolf Press, 1998.
At the Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border
Down in My Heart (memoir). 1947. Reprint. Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House; Columbia, S.C.: Bench Press, 1985.
Winterward. Ph.D., diss. University of Iowa, 1954.
Writing the Australian Crawl. Views on the Writer's Vocation (essays and reviews). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978.
You Must Revise Your Life (essays and interviews). Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press, 1986.
The Animal That Drank Up Sound (children's book, with illustrations by Debra Frasier). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Poems by Ghalib. New York: Hudson Review, 1969. First Edition in wrappers. Translated by Stafford, Adrienne Rich and Ajiz Ahmad.
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William Stafford Poems
A Ritual To Read To Each Other
If you don't know the kind of person I am and I don't know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
Traveling Through The Dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
Some time when the river is ice ask me mistakes I have made. Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Others have come in their slow way into
Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window. No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held for awhile. Some dove somewhere.
For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot--air far down, a snap that might have caught.
Notice What This Poem Is Not Doing
The light along the hills in the morning comes down slowly, naming the trees white, then coasting the ground for stones to nominate.
When I Met My Muse
I glanced at her and took my glasses off--they were still singing. They buzzed like a locust on the coffee table and then ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
Tomorrow will have an island. Before night I always find it. Then on to the next island. These places hidden in the day separate and come forward if you beckon.
Day after day up there beating my wings with all the softness truth requires I feel them shrug whenever I pause: they class my voice among tentative things,
Waking At 3 A.M.
Even in the cave of the night when you wake and are free and lonely, neglected by others, discarded, loved only by what doesn't matter--even in that
In line at lunch I cross my fork and spoon to ward off complicity--the ordered life our leaders have offered us. Thin as a knife, our chance to live depends on such a sign
Paw marks near one burrow show Graydigger at home, I bend low, from down there swivel my head, grasstop level--the world goes on forever, the mountains a bigger
1 Sometimes in the open you look up where birds go by, or just nothing, and wait. A dim feeling comes
It is time for all the heroes to go home if they have any, time for all of us common ones to locate ourselves by the real things we live by.
Returned To Say
When I face north a lost Cree
on some new shore puts a moccasin down,
rock in the light and noon for seeing,
he in a hurry and I beside him
It will be a long trip; he will be a new chief;
we have drunk new water from an unnamed stream;
under little dark trees he is to find a path
we both must travel because we have met.