Wednesday

Jan. 17, 2007

What's in My Journal

by William Stafford

WEDNESDAY, 17 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "What's in My Journal" by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow. © University of Michigan Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

What's in My Journal

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Things, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (books by this author). Though Philadelphia is regarded as his home, he was born in Boston on this day in 1706. He spent much of his life searching for ways for people to live better. After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove — called the Franklin stove — which he never patented because he created it for the good of society.

He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance. When he grew tired of taking off and putting on his glasses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame, an invention which is now called bifocals. His brother was plagued with kidney stones, so Franklin created a flexible urinary catheter to help him feel better. Among Franklin's other inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument), the odometer, and the lightning rod.

Franklin eventually retired from public service to spend his time reading and studying. He found, however, that his age left him unable to reach the high shelves in his library. He invented a tool called a "long arm" — a long wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end — to reach the books he wanted to read.


It's the birthday of Anne Brontë, (books by this author) born in Yorkshire (1820). Anne Brontë has been remembered primarily as the third Brontë sister. She was meek and more religious-minded than Charlotte or Emily, and little is known about her life compared to the lives of her sisters. But she was a writer, just as they were. Her first novel was Agnes Grey (1847), based on her experience as a governess. It didn't get much attention, but her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was an immediate success. The heroine, Helen Huntingdon, leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting while living in hiding. In doing so, she violates social conventions and English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband.

In the second printing of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë responded to critics who said her portrayal of the husband was graphic and disturbing. She wrote, "Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts — this whispering "Peace, peace," when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."


It's the birthday of Robert Cormier, (books by this author) born in Leominster, Massachusetts (1928). He wrote the best-seller The Chocolate War (1974), which became one of the 50 most frequently banned books in the nation's public libraries and schools in the 1990s.


It's the birthday of poet William Edgar Stafford, (books by this author) born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. During the Second World War, he was a conscientious objector and was interned as a pacifist in civilian public service camps in Arkansas and California, where he fought fires and built roads.

In 1948, Stafford moved to Oregon to teach at Lewis and Clark College. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark (1962), was published when Stafford was 48. It won the National Book Award for poetry in 1963. He said, "At the moment of writing ... the poet does sometimes feel that he is accomplishing an exhilarating, a wonderful, a stupendous job; he glimpses at such times how it might be to overwhelm the universe by rightness, to do something peculiarly difficult to such a perfection that something like a revelation comes. For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things."

He published more than 65 volumes of poetry and prose. He remained a professor of English at Lewis and Clark College until his retirement in 1990. He died on August 28, 1993, at his home in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

About his own works, Stafford once commented, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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