Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What happens in classes at the Northwest Writing Institute?

What part does writing play in your life? What part would you like it to play? What does the world need that only your stories, your poems, your voice and vision could provide?

The Northwest Writing Institute is a place to explore these questions in good company. We are a community of teachers, writers, counselors, and other citizens intent on helping each other write the story of our calling, the resume of our delicious failure, whisper the secrets we are ready to tell, jot the manifesto, proclaim and sing what we don't know to say until we sit down together to write.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

William Stafford on TV

How does poetry make its way in the world?

At a party recently I learned from a friend that the pilot for the TV show "The Riches" ended with the main character reciting a poem by William Stafford. She sent me the link, I checked it out on www.hulu.com, and sure enough, at about minute 55:30 of the first episode, at a party in Louisiana one character recites some lines to another that are the close to "A Story that Could Be True," the title poem of my father's 1978 book by that name. Then the credits roll and we hear Bob Dylan singing "Shelter from the Storm."

With the message from my friend came a copy of the poem she found on the internet:

A Story That Could Be True

If you were exchanged in the cradle and

your real mother died

without ever telling the story

then no one knows your name,

and somewhere in the world

your father is lost and needs you

but you are far away.

He can never find

how true you are, how ready.

When the great wind comes

and the robberies of the rain

you stand on the corner shivering.

The people who go by--

you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs

any day in your mind,

"Who are you really, wanderer?"--

and the answer you have to give

no matter how dark and cold

the world around you is:

"Maybe I'm a king.”

But this copy includes a new last line for the poem, added by someone to make the poem gender-neutral: “Maybe I’m a queen.”

So we have a poem from an old book, with part of the poem recited in a TV show without any mention of the author, and then the poem appears on the web in an “improved” form…and then I find a website where people who heard these lines on TV tracked down the poem, and then found my father’s more recent book The Way It Is, where this poem appears, and where they witness about how important this book is to them.

What if your writing were exchanged in the digital world, and no one knew your name? Maybe yours is the voice to save a stranger’s life, a little at a time.

—Kim Stafford

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Remembering an Old Story

I was about to go to bed, but I remembered an old story--one written in about 1000 AD, and one I read in the winter of 1973--in Old Norse, for a graduate linguistics class. I was supposed to get a Ph.D. and become a medievalist, and my teacher was supposed to get tenure. But I left scholarship behind, and the last I heard she is teacher in Hungary.

But the story! It had a grip on my mind. And I started writing it as I remembered--one loving detail after another. Authun is a young man in Iceland, and he goes to Greenland, spends all he has to buy a polar bear (nothing mentioned, as I recall, about the bear's behavior)...took the bear to Norway, told King Harald he intended to give the bear to Harald's enemy, King Svein of Denmark, which leads to this great line: King Harald, in a rage, says to Authun, "You must be a very lucky man to say you will honor my enemy, and yet live!"

At least that's what I think he said. I was in thrall to old recollection, and spent the better part of the night writing the story from memory, as a gift for my friends. Maybe someday it will be a book. Who knows? But the story! The way the story takes hold and won't let go. Twenty-five years in memory, and here it comes to mind in the winter of another century.

This makes me want to write what is in me. Who knows who may receive this gift?

Kim Stafford

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time Alone in the Realm of Creation

For years I've been teaching writing at the Northwest Writing Institute with variations on the basic message: Write a little every day, and see how it adds up. We've convened classed on writing poems, fragments, "daily writing in the spirit of William Stafford" (which I'll offer again January 17-18), a class called "La Propria Luz" which attended to the moments of illumination that can happen even in a very busy life.

Basically, I was overwhelmed by daily imperatives, and needed students to help me find ways to keep writing in spite of it all.

That's all good. I'm a believer in the possibility, and the importance, of such a practice. But all the same...what might it be like to write all day and into the night, and then again the next day, and the next...in one long blur of creation?

Well, that's what I'm trying to do. I applied for an artist residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the Oregon coast, and lightning stuck! I'm here for eight weeks. I've brought bushels and bushels of paper--writing starts from twenty years of daily practice and myriad classes where we wrote together. And guess what--? It's still hard. It took me five days to create one huge computer file with 321 pages of poetry. Now I'm sorting that. There must be a better way. I have three categories: poems published, poems to publish, and abandoned poems. The last category is the biggest, and still, I'm wistful about some of those oddments.

I will have some kind of poetry book from this time, and I'm returning to the novel I stopped composing August 28, 1993--the day my father died. It's time to circle back to that for sure.

This time is challenging for my family, and I still spend many hours on email to keep in touch with the world work that needs to be done. But here I am.

What I want to witness about all this is that time is elastic and the work the same. It still comes down to staring at a draft until it begins to whisper change, and then attend to what wants to happen. That's the program whether I have a half hour before dawn at home, or a day at the coast.

I'm scared. What if this time ends and I'm not done with it all? Well, actually, I know that's going to happen...so I just keep at it, as I always have.

I hope to see some of you at the classes we will be offering this spring and summer. All kinds of possibilities on the website: www.lclark.edu/dept/nwi/workshops.html

See you soon, my friends,
Kim Stafford