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This review is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

THE GOLDEN STRING WILLIAM STAFFORD, The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press)

In their Afterword to this volume, the editors write of the many William Staffords one encounters in their selection: 'For each reader, it seems, there is a different William Stafford, one who is tougher, more philosophical, more genial, more inclined to reminiscence, lighter, softer, or darker than other William Staffords.' In a book of so many poems - two hundred and fifty-two chosen from a first selection of five hundred of the three thousand poems Stafford published in his lifetime - such variousness is hardly surprising. They go on to say 'to represent all of [the many William Staffords] would have taken a volume of twice this size'.

I found in The Way It Is the Staffords I already know, which I have met before in his Stories That Could Be True (1977), The Darkness Around Us Is Deep (a 'Selected' volume edited by Robert Bly) and the two fine volumes republished in England by Weatherlight Press, Holding Onto The Grass (1992) and Travelling Through the Dark (for which he received the US National Book Award in 1963). For me the characteristic Stafford is the brown-eyed man professing a preference for 'mild colorless people' in his poem 'Passing Remark' and saying 'In scenery I like flat country. / In life I don't like much to happen.' This is the Stafford who speaks of 'my kind of dog, unimpressed by / dress or manners, just knowing / what's really there by the smell/' The informal, affable address of ...


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