Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

The Way It Is by William Stafford
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Jan 13, 10

bookshelves: poetry, national-and-international-affairs, self-improvement
Read in January, 2010 — I own a copy

There are a lot of reasons the fan base of this deceased poet keeps growing. For readers of William Stafford, it is the wisdom of his message, his clear, comprehensible prose, his quiet urgency and subtle, honest emotions. His magic lies in not trying to be anything other than who he is. He is often playful but more often serious.

In a body of work this size, the themes become obvious. There is a calming presence coming up from the earth and down from the stars. In other words, it's everywhere - if one is willing to do more than glance around. Our destruction of nature will come back to us someday. Time passes whether you like it or not. War is never a matter of fate. Fear is everywhere - and something to learn from. The unassuming, metaphorical nature of Stafford's writing means that these important, timeless messages have a better chance soak into one's psyche, slow and sure.

And he's not afraid to take on opposing opinions to again reflect on his place in the world:

"After Arguing against the Contention That Art Must Come from Discontent"

Whispering to each handhold, "I'll be back,"
I go up the cliff in the dark. One place
I loosen a rock and listen a long time
till it hits, faint in the gulf, but the rush
of the torrent almost drowns it out, and the wind-
I almost forgot the wind: it tears at your side
or it waits and then buffets; you sag outward....

I remember they said it would be hard. I scramble
by luck into a little pocket out of
the wind and begin to beat on the stones
with my scratched numb hands, rocking back and forth
in silent laughter there in the dark;
"Made it again!" Oh how I love this climb!
-the whispering to stones, the drag, the weight
as your muscles crack and ease on, working
right. They are back there, discontent,
waiting to be driven forth. I pound
on the earth, riding the earth past the stars:
"Made it again! Made it again!"


"After arguing" represents the best, most enduring trait of Stafford's work: the celebration of being alone and of making your own path in life. Stafford acknowledges loneliness, pays tribute to his parents and others who died in his lifetime, but again and again finds comfort in his own company.

This book provides an important sampling of Stafford's work. The excerpts from his first book "West of Your City" and his 1982 offering "A Glass Face In the Rain" particularly stand out. It is a volume that reads well all at once or anytime a calm, wise, beautiful and evocative voice is needed.
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01/05/2010 page 162
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