Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Photographs of Stafford and Friends During the 1950s

Kenny Johnson, William Stafford, and Bob Dusenbery
at Mt. Jefferson, 1958. Kenny Johnson Collection.
During the past few years the staff at the Lewis & Clark Special Collections have been processing William Stafford's immense collection of photographs (over 16,000 images). Most of these photos were taken by Stafford during his travels to poetry readings and writing workshops. The collection also includes various images of Stafford taken by other photographers. As one would expect, the bulk of these photographs were taken after 1963 when Stafford was awarded the National Book Award for Traveling through the Dark. 

Recently, Lewis & Clark received a gift that fills in some important gaps in the visual documentation of Stafford's life during the 1950s and early 1960s. Steve Johnson, the son of Stafford's close friend Kenny Johnson donated a small collection of slides that feature Stafford and the families of some of his closest friends including the Johnsons, Dusenberys, and Paulys. The image above shows Kenny Johnson, William Stafford, and Bob Dusenbery during a trip to Mt. Jefferson in 1958. The three men first became friends in 1948 when Stafford was hired to teach at Lewis & Clark College. The photo above hints at the intellectual camaraderie that the three shared throughout their lives. Scholars interested in Stafford's correspondence might be surprised at the lack of letters to other poets that include substantive intellectual discussions. The obvious explanation for this absence is that Stafford reserved this kind of discourse for his closest friends and colleagues in Portland. Stafford's correspondence with Kenny Johnson provides striking examples of the candor and intellectual banter between the two (the finding aid for this collection can be viewed at: http://nwda.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv55599/). Lewis & Clark College is excited to have this new slice of documentary evidence of Stafford's life during this period.

Jeremy Skinner
Special Collections Librarian, Lewis & Clark College

Photographs of a television broadcast on Portland's KATU station featuring Lewis & Clark English Department members. Top image (left to right): William Lucht, Kenny Johnson, and Bob Dusenbery. Bottom image (left to right): Bob Dusenbery, William Stafford, and Ted Braun. The broadcast was a special Christmas poetry reading in 1963. Kenny Johnson Collection.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“I like flat country” and “I hate precious poets;” How William Stafford and Charles Bukowski once met

An archives research project by Jessica Alberg,
Lewis & Clark College class of 2013

The room is hushed, candles line the isles of folded chairs and the light on the stage is strong so all attention lies on the man at the podium. He is in the middle of one of his poems when he pauses, takes off his glasses and looks up at his audience: "Do you ever get the feeling" he begins "that you'd go fucking mad doing a thing like this...maybe I will." The audience bursts into laughter.

Photograph of Charles Bukowski by William Stafford
This is the poet Charles Bukowski during a joint reading where he and William Stafford presented poetry at the San Francisco Museum of Art at 7:30 pm on December 6th, 1973. Kathleen Fraser, director of the Poetry Center and the planner of this event explained her reasoning for placing these two together: "I like to hear different voices, different kinds of energies...People would see Stafford who otherwise would never have heard of him, and Bukowski would be introduced to a whole new group of people who would not have come just to see him alone." It was, without a doubt, an event charged on opposition. The event, Fraser later described "...was a mistake" and many considered the event to do incredible injustice to William Stafford. But while many in the audience considered it a mistake, Stafford and Bukowski may have thought otherwise.

A review of the event by the newsletter "Poetry Flash Eleven"

William Stafford is considered to be a very accessible poet, one whose poetry is able to touch and be touched by a wide variety of people. "William Stafford is a poet of understatement" commented one reviewer of the event. During the event, Bukowski drank from an orange juice bottle containing more vodka than juice, mocked Stafford, and while Stafford read, the Bukowski groupies of the audience hissed at him. Bukowski attempted to insult Stafford during the event by insinuate that he was soft: "Has he fainted yet?" "Should I do as Mr. Stafford does and say: 'I have two more poems left?' [takes a drink] I'm just a nasty born drunk I can't help myself." Why insult the person whom you have agreed to read with? Bukowski answers this at the beginning of the reading: "I hate precious poets and I hate precious audiences too. They destroy each other."

Yet, as readers of William Stafford's poetry, we know that the irony of a Bukowski and Stafford reading was not lost on Stafford, at one point he remarked: "Understanding the nature of tonight's reading, I have brought my very tamest poem." He went on to read "Passing Remark":

       In scenery I like flat country.
       In life I don't like much to happen.
       In personalities I like mild colorless people.
       And in colors I prefer gray and brown.
       My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
       says, "Then why did you choose me?"
       Mildly I lower my brown eyes--
       there are so many things admirable people do not understand.

Stafford did not come unprepared to the Bukowski reading--he knew what he was getting himself into. His response to the wild and crazy nature of Bukowski was to bring his tamest poem. Something which, maybe unrecognized by the Bukowski fans, was a bold move. This poem, and the context in which it was presented, are bold because Stafford is choosing to do the opposite of what is happening--he is taking the harder path by creating more distinction between himself and Bukowski. "In life I don't like much to happen/ In personalities I like mild colorless people"--these lines seem to address Bukowski's idea, that those who are extravagant and untamed are more interesting than those who are subtle, "precious" or mild. It is easy to appreciate the mountains, it is not as easy to appreciate the flat country. "There are so many things admirable people do not understand." Stafford ends his poem in a way which speaks to more than the mildness of "colorless" people. There is something inside these people that, because they are mild, allows them to better admire what is vivid, what is appropriately admirable. They are picky in what they choose because they see the vivid maybe more clearly than those who do not appreciate the simplistic. In September 1980 Stafford received a letter from a farmer named John Budan, who opened his letter by remarking that he had seen Stafford: "I saw you in person once, in San Francisco and it was sad because you read poems with Charles Bukowski who was very insulting." Stafford not only touched they city dwellers of San Francisco during this reading, but as well a farmer who had come into town. That he was able to touch someone during a reading considered a "theater event" by some of the critics means that Stafford had a strong voice and though he did not have the the flamboyant and crazy attitude of Bukowski, Bukowski was not able to shadow Stafford. Bukowski drank a bottle of screwdrivers but Stafford stayed sober and managed not to lose control of a daft event. In a letter to Stafford from Fraser after the event, Fraser stated: "You are most generous regarding a most unusual, unexpected and, for me, overwhelming EVENT..." Stafford also read a poem he included in his book, Writing the Australian Crawl.

     We’d have an old car, the kind that gets
     flat tires, but inside would be wolfskin
     on the seats and warm fur on the steering
     wheel, and wolf fur on all the buttons. And
     we’d live in a ranch house made out of
     logs with a loft where you sleep, and you’d
     walk a little ways and there’d be the farm
     with the horses. We’d drive to town, and
     we’d have flat tires, and be sort of old.

Another, seemingly, mild poem about mild people.

Stafford wrote to Bukowski four days after the event. His letter is surprising but speaks to his character.

Stafford letter to Bukowski
Stafford's letter is simple but respectable. His description of the scene is: "...a swirl" as if the whole situation was overflowing, mixed up--a whirlpool of activity and event. It is what one would use in place of the word "blur." When Stafford is finally able to see clearly, Bukowski is gone (which may indicate that he was mixing and swirling the room). As well, it is clear that Bukowski took Stafford by some surprise by leaving before saying something: "I didn't think I'd miss a chance to meet a partner in a joint reading." His next paragraph, about the blurred picture is quite interesting as well. "I blame the lighting" is a reference to the candle light, which is highly problematic for someone attempting to take a photo. Stafford then does the polite thing of offering to Bukowski his favorite poem by him, a very polite and normal gesture. However, he also adds that he got it put into an anthology. Now the gesture has gone from merely one of politeness, to one in which he shows honest enjoyment for Bukowski's work. A high compliment indeed. His final note: "Good luck." is maybe most telling of all. This simple statement is almost warm--it seems to indicate a sense of compassion.

Charles Bukowski replied almost a month later.

Bukowski letter to Stafford

Bukowski's letter is truly opposite Stafford's letter, which is apparent from the first sentence: "You show excellent style in contacting the enemy." While in Stafford's first paragraph he calls Bukowski a "partner," Bukowski calls himself William Stafford's "enemy." But this is not with the intent of ill will, but rather just a funny way Bukowski saw it. Most of Bukowski's letter is hard to decipher, and takes great patience. But there are a two moments that, with regards to William Stafford, must be pulled out. The first is in Bukowski's second paragraph:

  ...what those in the poetry audience misunderstand...what those who rail against me and cheer you--we are both, somehow, on the same side, and that kindness is knowing whatever we can know and to put it down in the light of seeing. you say it one way, I say it another. but all we are asking is a chance to live. To live with blue slippers on our feet and sausages cooking over some flame. we don't even ask love. we are wiser than that.

What Bukowski points to here is something Stafford speaks to often in his poetry: The Truth, honesty, the poet recognizing the feeling of something and being able to follow it. A poet is honest when someone else would have been nice. As well, Bukowski is returning to his idea that while he and Stafford are "enemies," they are also on the same side by putting the truth into the light so that the audience can see it. What the audience cannot see is Bukowski and Stafford's connection. These poets are more connected than we as readers can seemingly see.

Bukowski's final paragraph seems to reveal to Stafford a very personal side: "it's just as well we hadn't met. I do things stupid. I am powerful but I am frightened," Bukowski says. This seems to be the most honest line of the letter. It was quite common for people say that they revealed to William Stafford things they never thought they would say, and it seems as if Bukowski was also pushed to say something. Right after this note he launches into made up words and strange sentences, and becomes impossible to understand--as if the moment before was too much. And of course, one cannot leave the letter without noticing the handwritten notes on the side and the drawings, no more than one can go without noticing that Bukowski has spelled his first name wrong. All things that seem to describe Bukowski, even from his signature introduced with merely a "yes" which was not a way he normally signed. It is not quite clear what the "yes" refers to, if it is to the "thank you for writing me" or to something in Stafford's own letter, such as the "good luck."

Both poets wrote honest letters, letters that were completely reflective of their character. Their letters not only show the difference between them, but also show the similarity between the poets. These letters, and this poetry reading, show us the connection of poets. How they, never mind what we as an audience think, "...[are] both, somehow, on the same side...[and] knowing whatever [they] can know...put it down in the light of seeing."

This is a video of Bukowski reading at the 1973 San Francisco event. It contains feed of almost every moment he is on stage. There is no surviving video of Stafford's portion of the reading. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New William Stafford Bibliography Available for Pre-Order

In August of 2012, Lewis & Clark College Special Collections staff completed the compilation and editorial work for the first comprehensive bibliography of the publications of William Stafford. This was a landmark achievement for our staff. Based on nearly fifty years of research began by James W. Pirie in the 1960s, the 544-page book provides bibliographic information for all known editions of Stafford's books, translations, editorial work, broadsides, serial publications, appearances in anthologies, archival collections, and a listing of major criticism. The book also includes a 100-page index of every poem title, book title, name, and publisher that appears in the bibliography.

This book is a must-have for Stafford scholars and anyone doing work in the Stafford Archives. Oak Knoll Press has announced that the book will ship in March 2013. If you would like to pre-order your copy, go to: http://www.oakknoll.com/detail.php?d_booknr=110070.

Special thanks is due to Robert Miller for his permission to use his stunning previously unpublished portrait of Stafford for the book jacket.

Jeremy Skinner
Assistant Archivist, Lewis & Clark College
Managing Editor for William Stafford: An Annotated Bibliography 

An Update on Work in the William Stafford Archives

The staff at the William Stafford Archives at Lewis & Clark College have neglected this blog for the past year while we have been working hard to finish a number of massive cataloging projects. While we apologize for our absence, we are happy to announce that most of our major projects are complete and all of our new Stafford research tools are accessible to the public.

Key among these new tools is the soon-to-be-released Stafford bibliography (see this posting about the book). Additionally, the entire 130 linear foot research collection is now searchable and browsable through online finding aids at the Stafford Archives website. The organizational chart for the entire collection can be seen below. 

We look forward to seeing you in the archives.

Jeremy Skinner
Assistant Archivist, Lewis & Clark College  

Series 1: Drafts, 1937-1993

  • Sub-Series 1: Daily Writings, 1950-1993
  • Sub-Series 2: Travel Journals, 1952-1992
  • Sub-Series 3: Documentary Copies, 1937-1993
  • Sub-Series 4: Prose, 1937-1993
  • Sub-Series 5: Writings for Public Readings and Workshops, 1960-1993
  • Sub-Series 6: Stafford’s Translations of Other Authors, 1962-1992 

Series 2: Professional Engagements, 1959-1993

  • Sub-Series 1: Appointment Books, 1959-1993
  • Sub-Series 2: Promotional Materials and Conference Programs, 1950-1993 

Series 3: Correspondence, 1958-2010

  • Sub-Series 1: General Correspondence, 1958-1993  
  • Sub-Series 2: Correspondence with Publishers, 1958-2010
  • Sub-Series 3: Civilian Public Service Correspondence, 1930s-1947 

Series 4: Photographs, 1880-1993

  • Sub-Series 1: Negatives of Photographs by William Stafford, 1966-1993
  • Sub-Series 2: Prints of Photographs by William Stafford, 1960-1993
  • Sub-Series 3: Stafford Family Photographs, 1880-1993
  • Sub-Series 4: Photographs of William Stafford, 1920-1993 

Series 5: Audio & Video, 1950-2012

  • Sub-Series 1: Video Footage of William Stafford, 1966-2011
  • Sub-Series 2: Audio Recordings of William Stafford, 1963-1993
  • Sub-Series 3: Musical Settings to William Stafford Poetry, 1950-2012
  • Sub-Series 4: Audio Recordings of Others Reading Stafford’s Poems, 1976-2009 

Series 6: Teaching Materials, 1950-1993

  • Sub-Series 1: Syllabi and Handouts, 1950-1978
  • Sub-Series 2: Teaching Notecards, 1950-1993

Series 7: Artifacts, 1943-1993

  • Sub-Series 1: Artifacts Owned by Stafford, 1943-1993 

Series 8: Publications, 1938-2012 

  • Sub-Series 1: Books by Stafford in English, 1946-2012
  • Sub-Series 2: Books with Contributions by Stafford, 1947-2012
  • Sub-Series 3: Periodicals with Contributions by Stafford in English, 1938-2012
  • Sub-Series 4: Broadsides Featuring Stafford, 1959-2012
  • Sub-Series 5: Translations of Stafford, 1970-2011
  • Sub-Series 6: Criticism of Stafford, 1957-1911
  • Sub-Series 7: One-of-a-Kind Art Books, 2011

Series 9: Pacifism, 1939-2006

  • Sub-Series 1: Pacifism Publications, 1939-1968
  • Sub-Series 2: Civilian Public Service Subject Files, 1942-2006 

Series 10: William Stafford Biographical, 1950-2012

  • Sub-Series 1: Biographical Clippings, 1950-2011  
  • Sub-Series 2: General Biographical, 1950-2012

Series 11: Stafford Archives Administrative Files, 1998-2012

  • Sub-Series 1: Topical Files, 1998-2012