American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Some Rules Not Yet Discovered: Stumbling After William Stafford
The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, William Stafford,
St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1998
Valerie Bassett reads and writes in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
So I’ve burned books. And there are many
We are all implicated here as much as the book-burners and censors: accountable for the unthought, unsaid, unwritten. In the rich collection of essays, interviews, and poems about writing, You Must Revise Your Life, Stafford named one genesis of this poem as a literal experiment with the wild, bitter flavor of being a book burner. “It seemed to me that living in a free country and not testing foregone conclusions would be a loss in anyone’s life.”
Stafford’s art is devoted to the possibilities of ongoing revelation in language. “Now and then some strange, untried elements will creep into your dreams—you can’t be careful and responsible all the time. And of those stray flaws, a few may be good luck, and you will keep them; they are signs of some rules not yet discovered.” For me, as a Quaker and writer, listening for and striving erratically to be faithful to the still small voice and its unwritten rules, this is a resonant and companionable poetry. “Your exact errors make a music/ that nobody hears/ And you live on a world where stumbling/ always leads home” (from “You and Art”).
Stafford’s life, as his work, shines with experimentation with deep choice and faithfulness to his principles. Stafford was a pacifist who spent four years in a conscientious objector work camp during World War II. His chosen values of equality, pacifism, and anti-authoritarianism were deeply considered, and he worked to integrate them into all aspects of his life. The man died in 1993, but he left behind a generous body of work. The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, published posthumously in 1998 by Graywolf Press with the assistance of Stafford’s son, writer Kim Stafford, is a good place to begin.
Stafford’s poetry suggests that to be a pacifist is not just a stance in relation to war or physical violence, but a commitment to an ongoing process of reflection and unobvious choice. It requires paying attention to one’s own possibilities of violence, of selfishness, and then choosing to turn righteous energy inward and transform aggression. The gesture of moving deeper into something difficult and opening up to it, unclenched, is followed breathtakingly in the poem “Thinking about Being Called Simple by a Critic.”
...From the night again—
Is Stafford simple? His is a modest, quiet poetry, and also a poetry of great consequence. In it are expansive possibilities of being that counter the grasping world with the power of softness to move hard things, the vastness of impermanence, and the far-traveling capabilities of taking self very lightly: “smoke’s way.”
Smoke’s way’s a good way—find
Smoke? Into the mountains I guess
I saw Smoke, slow traveler, reluctant
Smoke never doubts though: