22 January 2018:
I like to read William Stafford first thing in the morning, half-asleep in the pre-dawn dark, half-conscious with a sort of groggy openness. I like to read old Bill this way because I feel I get a better idea of what he was doing, what he was after, what early morning state of mind he managed.
It is well-documented. Mr. Stafford woke up by 4:00 a.m. everyday and spent 2–3 hours writing poems. He liked the quiet before everyone else woke up. No distractions. He liked the dark and, I imagine, the first light to himself every morning.
From the couch, with his head propped up—a little notebook in hand—he tried to get down whatever came his way. The time, the weather, yesterday’s trivial events. The banal is where he began, and from there, anything could come.
“Starting with anything,” Stafford said, “the pattern begins; the little thread leads onward.”
In January of 2016, inspired by Kim Stafford’s biography of his father, Early Morning, I made a resolution for myself, having more to do with the timing of Kim’s book for me than any sort of New Year’s resolve. It was a simple resolution, one I’d tried before, one I knew Mr. Stafford made back in the 40s and kept up till the end.
I decided to wake up before work in the dark and write. I made it a habit, one I have kept up, tweaking the hours here and there to fit whatever schedule I am involved with at the time. There have been absences, sure, but the habit has stuck around. Nothing as early, nor prolific, as Mr. Stafford, but I wake up, pour my coffee, and sit at my desk—my window opening on a huge Colorado spruce covered in snow this time of year.
Here, I wait. If only a half-hour, forty-five minutes, an hour. In that half-awake state, I find an opening line, or only a word or two, something about the morning, something to get the pattern moving.
And things come. Beautiful things, boring things, simple neighborhood sights and sounds. From these simple things, poems are built, whole pages are built, life, too, is built.
“Starting with anything…” is the key. The only way, really. Being open. Letting whatever happens on the page happen on the page.
Sure, some poems turn out better than others. Some simply do not live up to what you feel a poem should be.
Still, even the bad ones are poems. You wrote them. They are yours. And they keep you moving right along to the next, for better or for worse.
Mr. Stafford said: “…some people don’t have the nerve to write bad poems, but I do.”
I am trying for that nerve. Open, alert, indiscriminate, nudged this way and that, come what may.