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National Educational radio in cooperation with the Library of Congress takes pleasure in presenting another reading recorded under the auspices of the Gertrude Clark with her poetry and literature fond of the library. Today American poet Donald hone and William Stockard will read and comment on their work along with James Dickey consulted in poetry to the Library of Congress now serving as moderator. Here is James decade. This evening they had a listen to the poems and opinions of two of the most interesting and powers of the time and that different from each other as pets. Not a home for example. There's a New England about who's educated actually got an Oxford and his first book exiles and I was than a month after selection of the academy and he has subsequently published two minute volumes of the US the dog houses and
the roof of Tiger Woods. His arms have bared out a fine but personally I think it's a magnificent prose reminiscence is going to be again the New England. Has written a successful play about Robert Frost and the book on the sculptor and remove In addition he is one of the indefatigable commentators on poets and poetry in the scene. He has edited and thought it is all over the place including the almost universally used paperback dual new car what's available on the market. This is collaboration with Robert Bach and Louis Simpson and Penguin Books contemporary American Poetry and he has even brought out with Steven spent the Concise Encyclopedia of English and American. Know of any nation American poets in our
career. At any rate he's among the most talers workers in the public or one of them as listen to and worth listening to. Of our model is in contrast a Midwesterner. And the far west of the choice he was been in such as Hutchinson Kansas. Can you imagine then and went to school. I went to school at the University of Kansas and at the State University of Iowa has written three books of poetry west of us traveling through the dark which won the National Book Award in 1963. Surely one of the most credible of the deserved awards of this organization and a new book in 1066. The rescued year he now lives in Lake Oswego Oregon with his wife and four
children. Since 1948 he has taught English Composition at Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon. In addition to his work and poetry is a subtle and original critic and publishes criticism as well as in many of the better literary magazines. I can tell you from experience that he has a file and outdoorsman. A good guitar player and singer a good shot with a bow and a rock. He is said to be America's most prolific poet and this is probably true. From my personal viewpoint I can say that as much as he writes I would look for is as was the thing in there and I hear some poems and I am certain the Pennines about them each per read. Getting with Mr. Donald Hall and birth the person who is reading and the poet who is not reading
in the beginning this will be Mr. WILLIAMS. And the commentator in the locket who is our soul not reading will feel free to discuss or raise any point but turning to what has been read. Now if you can follow this let's let Mr. Han get things on the way. I'd like to start by you reading an old poem of mine. This is a poem I wrote in 1954 when my first child was born my son. And it's called my son my executioner. My son my executioner I take you with my arms. Quiet and small and just a sister and who my body warns. Sweet death small son our instrument. So their mortality. Your cries and hungers document our bodily decay. We twenty five and twenty two who seemed to live forever.
Observe enduring life in you and Stark to die together. If I had advice to give to a young poet I'd tell him never put his age in a point. You feel older and older every time you read it. You said that's one of the earliest ones you can still like. That's right. What is it about it that retains your interest. Well I had to in order to still to like it I had to change it actually I changed it recently I didn't have to rewrite it. I just left out the last stanza. And I guess maybe why I like it is that the first three stanzas which now the whole point don't make the kind of mistake I characteristically made then which was to over explain everything. I used to write poems and this was one of them where there was always a last stanza which said Hey in case you didn't get it I get this. This is what I meant. I sort of I sort of hate to to say it but I brought it up so I'll say it the last stanza imprinted in
the book. It goes like this after what I just read. I take into my arms the death majority exacts her name with my imperfect breath. The moral paradox. So that in case you didn't get it that my son my executioner is a paradox I'll tell you. You know that's the real reason for getting rid of it is that it's just superfluous in the editor. It's an editorial written at the end of a new story. And I kept it around for a long time because I like the rhyme of the exacts and paradox the poets do that sort of thing. But there's a lot of bad writing in it I mean death and breath is the most cliche run in the business. And that bit about my imperfect breath is so falsely modest it's terrible and you thought my breast was perfect but I'll give you a clue it's not really. Listening close as that to the thought of them forgive the sun here and well it is close
to it I hadn't you know I know I wasn't thinking about it but of course I'd read the poem the poor the beautiful poem the only beautiful poem Joyce ever wrote I think I think is a wonderful as one of them. But I would ask you this you know now to leave off such a stanza and you do it. But the question I have is do you ever regret having to leave this or do you still want to put that last party. I always put it in when I'm writing the poem. I could think of example after example of poems I've written in the last year which I in the course of revision have taken this part out. So there is something in me that wants to do this but I'll tell you what I think it is. I think it's a lack of confidence in your images in the case of this poem it's not so much images as going to situations one after the other that or metaphors you know develop metaphors that that say it all. But I think when you want to explain it it means that you lack confidence in your imagination.
But aren't we all. We've often said this among ourselves that one should be careful and not be dictated to by the occasion or. Hearers and so on. Right now it sounds to me is that in this instance you're yielding to them because you still want to put that in but you know better than to do so. I don't think so no. You know that this this is what I want to ask you is that is that how closely wedded to the increasing knowledge of because as a human being and the evitable process and the poetic process which would which we would attempt to try to say something about there is less direct means of the homeland. Who who knows exactly what that is. Well it's fantastic. I think you know poems can be defined as people who began to think about their deaths early on. I remember when I was nine years old very melodramatic. When an aunt of mine died thinking death is now a reality. Well of course I had to be already
aware of it and worried about it in order to have this thought. And the poems are so well a giant and they are a stay of the moment until I'm in a holding pattern holding out. And this business about fame being the spur this is true we want to be loved in many ways and we also want to endure. And the coins are written against the flow against the stars. So they're actually really good. So what you really want to try to do when you realize this mortality now is to get the perfect form which will which will keep you on from this inevitable decay which is impossible. Yeah that's a good part of it which is an exhaustible which we think maybe might work. Bill doesn't think so. No but I am a little sorry that I indicated I disagree because I just want to say except it sounds to me is that you write poetry with much more more purpose than I can quite comprehend myself with much more realisation of what the poem is going to be
when you start it. Well this is after the fact and this is looking back and you know people always say why do you write poems. Then you think about it when you're sitting down to write a poem. You don't say I'm feeling horrible today so I'm going to put a stay against against mortality. This is just a kind of base. You know it's there all the time. It's only one of the things but it's a big one I think. Well you were innocent man. Yeah I like to read some new things. And this one is called The Man in the dead machine is about a man who was a pilot in the second world war but it's not about just taking. High on a slope in New Guinea the Grumman Hellcat lodges among bright vines as thick as arms in 1943 the clenched hand of a pilot glided it here where no one has ever been in the cockpit the helmeted skeleton sits upright
held by dry sinews at neck and shoulder and webbing that straps the pelvic cross to the cracked leather of the seat and the breastbone to the canvas cover of the parachute. Or say that the shrapnel missed him. He flew back to the carrier. And every morning takes the train. His pale hands on his black case and sits upright held by the firm webbing. You are the first man I read that to the very diligent man a poet and he looked very puzzled at the end of it he said. But they don't have safe seat belts on trains and I thought oh you're back to the factory I mean. But it turned out that in this case I think he was the crazy one not me.
I feel about this poem all through the first part of it. I was going to say audaciously for me. I don't believe this is a good pull the all that that effective writing about the pilot in the plane in the jungle. This was the kind of thing you can conceive of and then do. But then at the last the last for me redeems as Paul or great I mean this was the idea I was driving across the driving a thousand miles east by myself and had the image of this plane and pilot as an image of of how you often feel in middle life and it was it was there you see the connection was there the poem came out of this idea that the two men with the same man. I wanted to see at the end to get almost a kind of cinematic effect where you look at the commuter on the train and it kind of fades into a skeleton as you watch him. I want the wedding the word wedding to come in and do that to you you know the thing that has the great physical reality of the power in
the ground in the jungle becoming a skeleton in her harness and it seemed to me maybe slightly too pat to put him on a commuter train. The thing that had the greater reality is the simpler the image in the jungle has completely for sake of our war was completely becoming a skeleton in his rigged apparatus. What began to throw me off was I was aware that you were doing it so well that I heard the kind of slickness. Yeah you know not mine I would not but I would not know about it not to know not about the poet himself would be permitted. You know we speak to you when I was speaking earlier about that extra stanza I headed in this point. I had at the end of the point where it ends now held upright by the
firm webbing I had by the firm webbing of house and job and wife or something like that. No no paranoia just make your own web a liar on the part of me with just the wedding you can build your own. Greed is another. Or you don't find me resisting you. I like to read to read a poem like a radical to read a poem called waters. Which is also new. It's so new I may change it. Iraq drops in a bucket. Sudden fierce waves exhaust quickly against the 10 circle a stone in a pond. A fast splash and ripples move interrupted by weeds. The lake enormous and calm. A stone falls for an hour the surface moves
holding to itself the frail shutters of its skin at the bottom a thousand Stone make the lake calm the life worth living. I like this. You know that's the way to do it. Is that the way to do it again. Again not for the little bit first. But tell me why I want to know. I don't know about this poem it's very new. Well I think of the difference between this and the earlier ones the little folk part of the poem comes very early. I mean you do that you do a kind of beginning image and then the main part of the poem is the lake is the
is the moving outward dimensional thing. Now on the other poems it seems to me that you stayed with the scaffolding for a longer time and then you made the transition. Does this help. I hear I don't know you know I don't know I had thought like what I like so much as a is that some then have another close kind of an inner cause maybe this ain't the way to put it but it is our it is with it with the drop in the bucket. Who will really take the time to look into what what what happens there and decided to find the best possible way of science oh there's this is what I think is the word bucket is a beautiful word is in a lower than you know. You know that's a kind of spelling it out and I did it again with this thing you know wood out of the stanza business I spelled it out that I had them. I had it at the
beginning. So the two lines of the beginning of every stanza saying what this is what this is about this is what this stands about it with the nudge came before the the image in that case and I realized that I was limiting the poem falsely I was kind of and therefore putting the imagery at arm's length and the feeling that the image we could carry was put at arm's length by labeling this is this is what I like so now it's about as a member we can make a kind of major polling. And this and this is how much can be salvaged from the world and how much how much in a fantastically intimate condition one can come into the world in by a simple act of attention by what simply happened and saying so and haven't the courage to say so myself. Not to the great vast populace but simply the ones that's exactly what you've done.
The strangest thing is how much intimacy and inwardness and the presence of the poet himself can happen in the talking of objects assumed tension of objects and the kinds of otherly inward ugly person. That's exactly right and I used to think I used to think that you had to be personal in poems you had to say it was walk funny thing happen to me walking to the car this morning you know you had to say hi and you had to tell parts of your life and so on. This is utterly untrue. You get more intimate the more you can observe and connect connect with objects and you know again you say one funny thing happened to me on the way to that. But when you say that you have got to say exactly and in particular circumstances how funny it was made it funny. You know what is not what I want to say one that was in the last book it's not so new as the others it's a little tiny one called reclining figure which came for me out of
looking at a lot of Henry Moore reclining figures particular the kind that are stony and make the woman and the landscape the same thing. This is just reclining figure. Then the needy of the wave turned to stone by the cliff of her flank. I anchored in the darkness of harbors laid by in six lines. You know I read that when I first wrote that I read that out in Seattle and the great poet directly was still alive. He died about three months later and he came to the reading and he sat out in front and he made noises during my reading he'd talk and he made noises and I could usually tell whether I like a poem or didn't but when I read this when he said read I want to go and read it slower this time.
I like to talk out of the side of his mouth sometimes. So every time I read it I have this compulsion to read it over again. It's a theater Recchi memorial re reading I want to say to you what do you think about the woman a sort of XYZ. Well this is what struck me about this poem was that you have made that quick kind of connection. Landscape moment but also the same so much more regular than anything else you read as a sort of theory passes through the same cadence. It's reversed in the sense that nobody's ever given a name to it. But it's very regular. Yes. And you notice that the South is organized very carefully flanked ank dark Harbor. I mean there always has to be the paragon of percussive assonance. So I mean this is you know sit down and Santa write this poem in percussive assonance is but you do it and you like it and then you see that's why you like it. And that's one reason why. Let me let me get you to read one very along your way. I read one more and then let's get Bill. This is another new one a different
sort from what I've been reading. It's called crewcuts and it's sort of a poem against Crewcuts I'm afraid. Men with beards are always writing poems gets people with regards you know traveling around the country reading pointless but a lot of time in airports and I overhear people talking and this poem came out of experience in that sense. Men with crew cuts are impossible. Like I shows in airport bars all winter holding standby tickets. They wait for a plane into the next territory and confess to puzzlement over the Oriental mind. Later they want to drop legs on the Russian leader they want to keep violence out of the streets by installing a machine gun nest on every corner. When they discuss when they are discussing a subjugated race rumored to have cached away huge quantities of ammunition
they lounge on the porch of the club in darkest Africa pith helmets over their Crewcuts drinking pink Germans laughing at the natives while the Tom-Tom will start to beat us in a million kitchens and the sky lightens with a storm of Russians with hair down to their shoulders as inscrutable as the Chinese and as merciless as winning. Now we come to the other side of the island. This is where you give us the benefit of if such at the as I say whatever it is. Talking along in our not quite prose way.
We all know it's not quite prose we speak and it is time to notice this intolerable snow in numerable attaching before we sink. It is time to notice I say the freezing snow hesitating toward us from its gray haven't listen it is falling. Not quite silently and under it still. You and I go walking. Maybe there are trumpets in the house as we pass and read birds watching from the evergreens. But nothing will happen until we pause to flame what we know before any signals given
up. You carry it home. I want them. You use speak in such a direct kind of American. An easy go and kind of Midwestern. Home diction Do you honestly think that the Midwest and diction when it happens upon the right circumstance can speak with sublimity. I'm sure that sounds different to other people and that the sound of the accent does something to add to the message. So I don't know about what but my hope is that poetry can grow right out of the sound of our speech. Now Midwestern speech limits the US and it happens to be limited to that for
me because it happens to be where I grew up. So I'm not trying to push a certain and certain accent but the idea of having poetry verges almost imperceptibly and maybe some of you will say quite imperceptibly out of prose. I like this I mean is this really a separate diction or is it a tactic of poetry which is almost as old as poetry. To come to the top in our almost prose way to come out of speech and be close to speech and get its oh its strength from speech. I don't I'm trying to say I'm not sure I hear anything specially Midwestern in this or anything especially Eastern in me and but I do hear a special way of talking in you which is usually more like this. Well maybe we have a point now that not a big point but something that we couldn't nail down here. You speak as if as a writer the idea of making your writings be very close to speech is a common
thing as you say it's an old thing it's a it's something it's been done right along but maybe it could be newsworthy if it could be found that there is some kind of difference between writers and other people in this regard. In other words it sounds to me as if the writers think they're writing speech other people think they're writing something as a parent. You know where you were is another one of them I'm afraid. Well I was going to say well I'll read it in a kind of lead a different kind. This is called Uncle Bill visits. Remember me kids hear my head. Hi pumpkin. To you I take off the lid. I reach with my hand and take the violin handle. Look these groping little seeds inside want summers in the rain. Open hillsides many long furrows and fields full of Halloween
dreams. Here's where the fire lives here to shine out of my eyes. Watch out for the flame. I have brought empires down to Squeaks in the weeds. Weasels have hidden here and saints. I polluted Rome here and yes there are boxes I wouldn't want to disturb in this room I built a glass side with a camera inside linked with Telstar. Remember the blind old beggar you passed on the way to the movies. He broadcast by Telstar the whole Mardi Gras your town plays. And once when you clattered a nickel one day in his cup it deafened the scanner's tuned up for subtler acts all the way back to the echoing halls of the Pentagon. Oh oh. There are too many x children. We grownups know. I could tell you about a world where fathers and mothers are lost and their children
might save them. But now I had a high point can I reach out my hand and put the lid with the vine handle firmly down again. So now go tell your parents Uncle Bill's come.
Library of Congress lectures
Hall, Stafford, and Dickey, part one
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National Association of Educational Broadcasters
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, features poets Donald Hall and William Stafford; and Library of Congress consultant in poetry James Dickey.
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A series of lectures given at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Dickey, James
Speaker: Hall, Donald, 1928-
Speaker: Stafford, William, 1914-1993
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.2-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:40
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures; Hall, Stafford, and Dickey, part one,” 1967-11-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “Library of Congress lectures; Hall, Stafford, and Dickey, part one.” 1967-11-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: Library of Congress lectures; Hall, Stafford, and Dickey, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from