Julie Christine's Reviews > The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life

The Answers Are Inside the Mountains by William Stafford
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A Memorial
In Nagasaki they built a little room
dark and soundproof where you can
go in all alone and close the door and cry.

William Stafford, Poet Laureate of Oregon from 1975 until 1990, crafted over 20,000 poems during his time on Earth- a staggering output. A pacifist—soft-spoken, yet fierce—Stafford was a teacher, a mentor, a wide-eyed, gracious observer and recorder of life. His poems are clean, without guile or pretense and most often set in the natural world. He eschewed the rules of writing, rising above convention to state simply that showing up to the page was enough. That writing made one a writer, not publishing, not critical acclaim, not commercial success.
Find limits that have prevailed and break them; be more brutal, more revealing, more obscene, more violent. Press all limits.

The Answers are Inside the Mountains is one in a series of Poets on Poetry, a collection of interviews and conversations with a celebrated poet, as well as selected essays and poems. It includes a beautiful exchange between Stafford and his dear friend and fellow poet of the West, Richard Hugo. A slim volume rich and full of hope and light, compassion and encouragement The Answers are Inside the Mountains is one of the loveliest sources of inspiration this writer has read.
The earth says have a place, be what that place requires; hear the sound the birds imply and see as deep as ridges go behind each other.

I immediately lent it out to a writer friend and now I am bereft, trying to write this review without the treasured work beside me to flip through and reread. But I took notes in my journal, and took great comfort in reading that Stafford too kept journals, that they were the source of his creativity, one of the places he turned to in crafting his poems, where he worked out ideas and themes, from which he pulled his own material.
Save up little pieces that escape other people. Pick up the gleamings.

At this precarious time, when I struggle to find hope and beauty, I am reminded the answers are in the mountains, the mountains of art that surround me.
We drown in ugliness. Art helps teach us to swim.

I'm closing with a poem that wasn't in the book, because in searching for another poem, I came across this. It's been one of my favorites for years and reading it again opened up a river inside me. A river frozen over, now melted by Stafford's words.
Ask Me
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
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

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Reading Progress

July 16, 2015 – Shelved
July 16, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
January 6, 2017 – Started Reading
January 6, 2017 – Shelved as: writing-companions
January 7, 2017 –
page 42
21.88% ""The action of writing is the successive discovery of cumulative epiphanies in the self's encounter with the world.""
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: reference-instructional
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: poetry
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: pacific-northwest
January 10, 2017 – Shelved as: best-of-2017
January 10, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl "Press all limits:" love this line and all of the ones you've excerpted. I can't believe you loaned this one, Julie :) I'm adding it to the tbr immediately! Lovely, lovely review.


message 2: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Great review.


Julie Christine Cheryl wrote: ""Press all limits:" love this line and all of the ones you've excerpted. I can't believe you loaned this one, Julie :) I'm adding it to the tbr immediately! Lovely, lovely review."

The recipient lives across the street. I can see his window from my driveway. He won't get far :)

You will love this, Cheryl. Truly. Another poet recommended it to me. And he was oh so right. It's exquisite.


Julie Christine Carmen wrote: "Great review."

Thank you, Carmen!


message 5: by Joe (new) - added it

Joe Valdez Wonderful review, Julie. I am not a poetry reader, but, I hope that it's just a matter of time. Your skill as a writer has sold me a book.


Julie Christine Joe wrote: "Wonderful review, Julie. I am not a poetry reader, but, I hope that it's just a matter of time. Your skill as a writer has sold me a book."

What a beautiful comment, Joe. Thank you!


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