Saturday, April 11, 2009

Coffee at Home

One of my favorite poets, William Stafford, wrote a poem called "A Day at Home". Here it is:

A Day at Home
by William Stafford

On the near pine rain hangs
the way I suppose it hangs
on the far.

Being yourself, you are always
on time - right where your kind
of person should be.

Why not wait here while the rest
of the world happens? It is better as
history than it is as news.

The dog, his head on the coffee table,
gazes tranquilly, resting his chin
on a volume of Martin Buber.

I especially like the rhetorical question - "Why not wait here while the rest/of the world happens?" and then what seems like an offhand remark: "It is better as/history than it is as news." And perhaps it is meant to be taken as a casual, offhand remark. Off course, in poetry, what seems like an offhand remark makes our ears perk up.

If you are willing to wait "while the rest of the world happens", consider what that reveals about you. It means you are willing to take yourself out of the picture, so to speak. It means that you are willing to consider whether the world is better as history or as news.

The rhetorical question and the offhand remark constitute nothing less than an invitation to an intellectual discussion. But there's more: the last stanza illustrates animal nature at ease with profundities such as those available in the writings of Martin Buber (1878 - 1965), a Jew so highly respected that the Nazis did not kill him - a fact that becomes especially interesting when you consider that Buber was known for his "philosophical dialogue". He believed in an apolitical Zionism. Even more, he believed in Hasidism.

I prefer here to focus on Stafford's poetics rather than on issues we may or may not be able to find in Stafford's poems. Consider, in contrast to the hospitality of "A Day at Home", the fiercely private posturing in the often-anthologized "Ask Me":

Ask Me
by William Stafford

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.

What seems at first an entirely cold facade turns out to be a very nice (i.e., thoughtful and engaging) way of saying "wait and see".

In the spirit of hospitality, I offer the reader the following poem by Derek Walcott and also a series of pictures I took at home the other day.

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

"It is our goal to appreciate and improve our talents, to share our own work and to communicate the joys of poetry with others. Everyone's poetry is valued."
ver Junction Poets Mission Statement


susan said...

Hello Andrew,
I am a poetry lover in Farmington, MI. A friend referred me to BOP. I am so glad I made my way here. I first read "Ask Me" in Language of Life edited by Bill Moyers, made me an instant fan of Mr. Stafford. Enjoyed your post and look forward to reading here regularly.

Andrew Christ said...

Susan that's great! I know the BoP group in Saginaw has a fan in Fenton at The Little Professor bookstore. Melinda I think is her name. Haven't seen her for more than a year.

Isn't it great when you remember your first encounter with a poem? I love that. I remember hearing Stafford's "Traveling through the Dark" on Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" in 1991, and I remember that at that time I remembered learning about that poem in a poetry class. I decided when I heard his poem on the radio to buy a copy of Stafford's most recent book which at that time was "An Oregon Message", published in 1988 or so. I was surprised to learn that, in 1991, the book was already out of print.

I hope you do come back often and leave more comments! Nice to e-meet you.