Posts Tagged ‘William Stafford’

Natl Poetry Month 1

“There is the view that poetry should improve your life. I think people confuse it with the Salvation Army.” – John Ashberry

We enjoy poetry here at the Bureau, but most of the time we never get around to reading any. That’s a shame in a language that includes Robert Frost and the birch trees he observed bent by the snow,

So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

It’s not National Poetry Month (that was in April), but it is July and the outdoors are calling me. This makes me think of poetry about nature that’s really about people but then again maybe it’s about nature.

It’s impossible not to read the entire poem after archy the cockroach gives us this opening in “the lesson of the moth”:

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

William Stafford tells the story of a pile of rocks in “Silver Star.” Here’s how it begins:

To be a mountain you have to climb alone
and accept all that rain and snow. You have to look
far away when evening comes. If a forest
grows, you care; you stand there leaning against
the wind, waiting for someone with faith enough
to ask you to move. Great stones will tumble
against each other and gouge your sides. A storm
will live somewhere in your canyons hoarding its lightning.

But the poem I want to relate this evening is this one, by Paul Zimmer, called “Old Woodpecker.” It’s copyright 1989 by Mr. Zimmer and here it is in its entirety:

In the end his tiny eyes won’t focus.
Punchy, his snap gone, he spends his
Time banging on gutters and drainpipes.
He begins to slurr and churrrr,
His breath descending in a rattle,
He tells endless stories of old trees
Taken, but he has absorbed one too many
Hardwoods to his noggin, his brain is
Pudding. For the rest of his time
He will undulate around, patronized,
Spunky but sweet, remembering only
Nests of teeming carpenter ants,
Consenting grubs under flaps of bark,
The days when he was a contender
Amongst the great woods of his life.

Yes, I did write today here in the Write-a-thon, but no, I am not converting my book to any form of free or rhymed verse. I just felt like reading some poetry, and I wasn’t about to torment you with my own.

On Company Time 1

I wrote 700 words this week. That is, I kept 700 words. I wrote many more than that. “Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer,” Colette said. “But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Good call, Colette, but I have to pick up the pace or I’ll be working on this book on my deathbed. It’s time to embrace the advice of William Stafford: “Lower your standards and keep on writing.” I’m going to try that this week, as I have something coming up that I will reveal either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. Let’s see if I can work myself into a sprint, or at least a forthright trot.

“Be bold, thrust forward, and have the courage to fail. After all, it’s only writing. Nobody is going to die for our mistakes or even lose their teeth.” (Garrison Keillor)

Sunday Bargain Basement Sunday
Today I stepped out of the sunshine to attend the worst estate sale since the invention of capitalism. It was held in what I guess was a former fraternity house, a three-level shitbox that was a mouse’s maze filled with mattresses, mattress boxes, and wooden bureaus. It looked like an alternate-universe version of Sleep Country USA where Spock wears a beard, Uhura wears a knife, and the furniture is covered with generations of condensation rings from red plastic party cups.

Cool jazz all week
No more music reviews for a while. I gotta concentrate, and not on Queens of the Stone Age, who didn’t do much for me today. I will say that I also listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Four Way Street. Some of those songs ascend to a higher plane. But there’s something to be said for Crosby, Stills & Nash, which was recorded before they knew they were superstars.

I wonder why only Neil Young was able to change with the times and remain in the forefront of rock? David, Stephen, and Graham, as talented as they are, haven’t moved a millimeter past 1971. Though maybe that’s why they remain beloved while Neil seems unpredictable and not embraceable.

Consumer alert: There’s a string quartet and a bluegrass tribute to Four Way Street.

Box score
– I’ve written 15 days out of 15
– 19.5 total hours
– Current word total: 20,300
– Here’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon
– Here’s my first post on the Write-a-thon
My video has stalled at 148 views. Going viral is harder than it looks!

My sponsors (all hail):
– Karen G. Anderson
– Mitch Katz
– Laurel Sercombe

As always, thanks for following along, even though you won’t win a 20-volume set of the Encyclopedia International, a case of Turtle Wax, or a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat. You don’t even get a lousy copy of our home game!


Wordstock Oct 2011
(Image borrowed from the 2011 Wordstock Festival.)

This morning I had a job interview and this afternoon I worked onsite for a freelance client. In one day I went from health care to lubrication analysis to trains in the mountains in 1947. You have to be flexible if you want to survive in the novel-writing game.

Today I followed William Stafford’s direction to “lower your standards and keep on writing.” I’ll never type “The End” if I simultaneously move forward and return to rewrite. I’ll return later. So I forced myself to finish Chapter 5 already, even though the ending is lame, and plowed ahead in Chapter 6. In Chapter 6 we get somewhere, literally, and I’ll have some real scenery-chewing. I have to agree with Ms. Mukherjee:

“I remembered loving Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady when I studied it for my Ph.D. comps,” Bharati Mukherjee said. “This summer I tried to reread it. I soon abandoned the book, screaming, ‘Enough complex interiority, just give me a couple of big head-butting scenes!’ ” (“Read It Again, Sam,” The New York Times Book Review, 4 December 2011)

In real life, I’m too well-behaved for big head-butting, but in fiction I can be someone else (a big head-butter). I’m warming up the exclamation points right now!

Box score
– I’ve written for five days out of five
– 6.5 total hours
– Here’s the Clarion West Write-a-thon
– Here’s my first post on the Write-a-thon

Random Pick of the Day
Charles Earland, Black Talk! (1968)
If you love jazz and particularly the organ, you’ll dig Black Talk!. The title track is supposedly a variation on “Eleanor Rigby.” I can’t hear the dots connect, but nevermind. Charles Earland and his sextet transform the pop music of their era into something fresh and new. The standouts are their reworkings of “Aquarius” and “More Today Than Yesterday.” The latter is particularly astonishing, a soulful, funky romp that’s as light and joyous as Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” (1957) is dark and murderous. They’re even about the same length, 11:13 for Earland, 11:57 for Mingus. 

Random Pick of the Day 2.0
Foghat, “Take Me to the River,” Night Shift (1976)
And now a band that needs no introduction, probably because no one wants to meet them. Foghat sucks the phone, and yet detractors such as myself are unable to explain “Slow Ride” (1975), which I can occasionally listen to (if I’m in a car), or their stellar version of “Take Me to the River,” which is in the same league as the versions turned in by The Commitments and Talking Heads. Bachman-Turner Overdrive could only dream of rocking this hard.