April 28, 2009
by Kim Stafford
In conversations at home, my father had a habit of abruptly increasing the voltage by announcing, “Let’s talk recklessly!” This meant tiptoeing in polite banter was done. We were to dig deep, gossip freely about our uncertainties and strange beliefs, and lean forward and tumble into the liveliest possible interchange.
I always felt this kind of verve matched his habit as a writer: to speak boldly through fear, reticence, or even the need to be strong or eloquent. “I must be willingly fallible,” he said once, “in order to deserve a place in the realm where miracles happen.” And part of such necessary fallibility required trying out wild things in language, and speaking with the tang of zest and adventure.
I think he got this habit from his mother. My Aunt Mar says that when she was being courted by my father’s brother Bob, back in Hutchinson, Kansas, in the 1930s, “It was a thrill to be at the Stafford house, because they talked about all kinds of things in all kinds of ways. You didn’t go there to hide and listen. You went there to talk, and laugh, and learn.”
May this yet be so. Now that the William Stafford Archives are in the care of Lewis & Clark College, as part of Special Collections, it is my personal hope, as William Stafford’s literary executor, that this archive can be a place for reckless explorations. I don’t mean irresponsible ventures. Quite the opposite. I mean deeply responsible ventures supported by bibliographic care for the archival materials, but unencumbered by academic limitations on broad public use of what the William Stafford Archives hold. He was a citizen writer–involved in all kinds of creative activity–and the archives should be a place for broad citizen involvement. As the writer Elizabeth Woody says, “Responsible means responding to your abilities.” By this light, go anywhere.
The William Stafford Archives can be a place for a young student to find personal gold in permission to write … for a war veteran to shed uniform thought and find personal voice … for a parent to consider “a light touch with that little one” … for a teacher to apprehend “a better art inside the lesson” … and for citizens of all kinds to find, deepen, and renew their calling to a life of witness. The archives–voices, faces, hand-writ pages wild in exploration, tender letters of advice and encouragement–may this be a place for reckless hope. As William Stafford told his class, there is a compass inside the language, and by attending to this compass, you may find ways to guide your life.
At the archives, you step into the creative studio of the seeker. Come to these resources ready to change the voltage of your inquiry. At the William Stafford Archives, “Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.”
Kim Stafford, associate professor and director of the Northwest Writing Institute at the Graduate School of Education and Counseling, is the literary executor of the William Stafford estate.