Tag Archives: listening

The Communion of Reading: William Stafford

The poet William Stafford and my father were born in the same year, 1914, one hundred years ago. I’m having trouble reconciling that, for some reason.

My father fought in World War II; Stafford was a conscientious objector. Stafford was a poet and a teacher. My father loaded trucks for a living.

As far as I can intuit, there is one thing that they shared: there was a depth of feeling, tinged with sorrow, that framed their lives. One found an outlet; the other did not.

In this one hundredth anniversary year of his birth, a wonderful new collection of William Stafford’s work has been assembled, Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems, compiled by his son, Kim Stafford.

stafford ask me

Perhaps the two most complex relationships in (human) life are between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons. Kim Stafford’s collection of his father’s work testifies to a depth of understanding and emotion in life, including the father/son relationship, that is rare, indeed, even amongst the finest of poets.

My father was an avid reader though, like most of us, not often of poetry. Still, one of the greatest gifts he ever gave me was a penchant for the works of Thomas Hardy. For an aging, exhausted shipping clerk to catalyze this kind of connection, classic author to father to son, was no mean feat. It was a way to express emotion, something far more difficult than even the grueling, mind numbing job which helped shorten his life.

Oddly enough, looking at what I’ve written so far, it is readily apparent that, during this National Poetry Month, this wonderful retrospective selection of William Stafford’s work has, in memory, given me back my father in a moving, important way.

That is what the communion of reading can do.

Here is a poem by William Stafford from Ask Me that speaks directly to the feelings I’ve been grappling with, in a manner I feel no prose account might do:


My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us have never been.

More spoke to him in the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that far place.

– William Stafford

~ Don

PS:  Thanks,  David Mahler, for the gift of William Stafford.


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One A Day

Sounds I expect to hear during December.

1. Bells.

2. “Oh Boy! What smells so good in the oven?”

3. Snow Blowers. (I hope not!)

4. Scrape of snow shovels. (I hope so!)

5. Tire chains.

6. Crows cawing as they gather at twilight.

7. Clinking radiators.

8. “Light one candle.”

9. A match striking.

10. An axe splitting fire wood.

11. A crackling fire.

12. Carol singing.

13. “Bah! Humbug!”

14. The squeak of snow under foot.

15. Hockey referee’s whistle (after the strike ends).

16. Champagne corks popping.

17. The same holiday song over and over again, at every grocery store, coffee shop, bank . . .

18. Postal and package delivery trucks stopping on my street.

19. My own footsteps taking me to the window to see if one of those trucks has a present for me!

20. “Attention shoppers!”

21. The lonely winter wail of a train horn passing through Panther Hollow.

22. “Hi Mom, we just landed. Can’t wait to see you!”

23. Wind.

24.  The hush after snowfall.

25. “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

26. Candles spitting.

27. Chattering teeth.

28. Campaign robo calls. (Wait — that was November!)

29. Skate blades on ice.

30. Roar of the crowd as the Steelers score!

31. “Happy New Year!”

Someone who really pays attention to sound is the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. In The Tuning of the World he writes about the soundscape throughout history, and explores and analyzes our present acoustic environment. A recent New York Times essay led me to a new book, The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind by Seth Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist who handles very technical aspects of hearing and sound with humor and grace.



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Stop and Listen

The simple act of listening is easier said than done.  A recent opinion piece in the New York Times commented on the lost art of reading aloud, nostalgic for a time before the existence of recorded audio books, when people practiced reading aloud to each other as entertainment. 

Being read aloud to doesn’t have to be something adults do for children.  Nearly a year ago, blogger Julie wrote about what has now become our annual read aloud series.  Beginning this Friday, May 22, Eleventh Stack bloggers and other Carnegie Library staff will be reading aloud at Schenley Plaza for the Eleventh Stack Read Aloud Series.  We’ll be making an appearance with an essay, story or poem in hand this Friday as well as Friday June 19, July 24, August 28 and September 25.  We’ve chosen a theme for each month with May’s being mix-ups. 

I’ll be reading under the tent at Schenley Plaza this Friday starting at noon, along with blog contributors Bonnie and Jude.  Enjoy the simple act of listening and join us on your lunch hour as you listen to stories that will make you laugh, cry and think.

– Lisa

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Living and Listening

storycorps airstream

Since 2003, the nonprofit project StoryCorps has been celebrating, recording and collecting the oral history of nearly 30,000 Americans; the concept, everybody’s story matters. The National Public Radio affiliated project archives each recording at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress.

The idea is simple, a facilitator who works for StoryCorps and two individuals who know each other go in the both; one person listens while the other shares their story. Each session lasts 40 minutes and the participants get to keep a copy of their recorded history. Topics range from the “big questions” to becoming a business woman in the 1970s. Pittsburgh was lucky enough to have an Airstream trailer of its own for a few weeks in June, 2006.

Listen to hundreds of stories archived on the StoryCorps website. Bummed out about missing the mobile booth 2 years ago? Grab a loved one and record your own story with this do-it-yourself guide.

Also, take a look at Listening is an Act of Love, an anthology of stories from StoryCorps’ collection.

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