Yesterday I got a call from a friend I hadn't spoken with in more than a year. "I have to tell someone this," she said. "I just wrote a poem." It was her first ever, a tribute to Catholic prophet Phil Berrigan, who died in December. She read it to me over the phone; it was filled with the sounds of hammers clanging on the alloyed hearts of terror-riddled nose cones. Oregon poet and pacifist William Stafford once said, "Poems don't just happen. They are luckily or stealthily related to a readiness within ourselves." In this case, he was absolutely right.
Minneapolis' Milkweed Editions is preparing a manuscript of Stafford's poems on peace and war, due out this fall. Most were published in previous works, but the collection brings a few gems into the glistening light for the first time. One piece Stafford wrote during the Gulf war says, "It's a madness almost everyone has, war/ years, to choose a person to hate/ and get hated by...." Though Stafford was a conscientious objector in World War II and served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Arkansas and California, he never once shied away from the abysmal contradictions that war forces on the human conscience. In "Family Statement," Stafford is wearing his brother's clothes ("I wear the old hat, and the tie he sent") while his brother fights in the war. "My brother and I are both crying," Stafford admits, "in this glittering chromium time/ in the saddest war."