Ask Me - The Poetry Of William Stafford



William Stafford's achievement is extraordinary. He wrote more than 20,000 poems, of which more than 4,000 have been published, in more than 80 books and 2,000 periodicals. But it is the quality of his work that distinguishes him. Stafford was the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress - the post that became the Poet Laureate of the United States, for years he was Oregon's Laureate and he won the National Book Award.

Stafford was born in Kansas one hundred years ago. He grew up during the Depression and, a conscientious objector, spent the Second World War in camps, working in forestry. Too exhausted after work he took to rising early to write, and he continued this practice of daily writing until his death in 1993. For Stafford it was the act of writing that mattered most. Writers who got stuck he advised to, "Lower your standards - and carry on."

His poems are mostly short and accessible, but acquire great depth. They can be tough, too. He was sensitive to landscape, people, animals, nature and history. So it is not surprising that Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were both admirers.

The poet Katrina Porteous, who also writes daily, visits to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where for decades Stafford taught, wrote and developed his ideas. There she meets his son, Kim, who takes her to places that were important to him. She visits the huge William Stafford Archive, hears recordings of his readings, meets people who knew him, and students and poets he continues to influence - Mary Szybist, a recent winner of the National Book Award, and the highly praised young poet Matthew Dickman. And she goes out into the wilderness of Oregon to investigate and reflect on the life, outlook and work of this great American poet.

Producer: Julian May.