That winter when this thought came--how the river
held still every midnight and flowed
backward a minute--we studied algebra
late in our room fixed up in the barn,
and I would feel the curved relation,
the rafters upside down, and the cows in their life
holding the earth round and ready
to meet itself again when morning came.
The highly acclaimed poet William Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. As he grew up he also lived in Wichita, Liberal, Garden City, and El Dorado.
He graduated from the University of Kansas with an MA in 1946, and he received a Ph.D from the University of Iowa in 1954. He taught at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon from 1948 to 1980.
His second book of poems, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), won the National Book Award. Stafford's other honors included a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Shelley Memorial Award, and the Award in Literature by the America Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. William Stafford was the best-known poet of Kansas until he died in August 1993. Around the country, many friends and colleagues mourned his passing.
With more than 30 books to his credit, Stafford's work is widely available. His New York publisher, Harper & Row, collected much of his work in Stories That Could be True. However, many poems about Kansas places were available in literary journals such as Kansas Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, Cottonwood, and Little Balkans Review. This collection features regional experiences of towns, rivers, and fields. Some are about Kansas landmarks that are not well known outside the state, such as "Coronado Heights":
When we touch the rock, a little cold shiver
begins: this is the place where Coronado
found that cities of gold are dust,
that the world had led him north beyond
civilization, beyond what was good.
And right down onto the prairie grass
he fell. His helmet tumbled right here.
He smelled the earth and felt the sun
begin to be his friend: he had found
a treasure, the richest city of all.
Wheatfields frame this place today,
a gift: how the riches of Mexico,
the wandering tribes, the golden wind,
all come true for us, bowing
in reverence with Coronado.
This poem pays homage to the furthest north spot of Coronado's expedition, near Salina, where a Spanish helmet was found. Anyone can appreciate the well-crafted poems of William Stafford. His spiritual perspective gives his verse a profundity.
Kansas Poems of William Stafford
edited by Denise Low
5-1/2" X 8-1/2"