Book Nine: The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

I recently veered off of my Books to Read in 2012 list in order to indulge in a little dystopic narrative, and I don’t know whether it was because The Hunger Games doesn’t appear on my to-read list, or maybe because it is YA, or maybe because I am worried my more literary friends will simultaneously turn up and look down their noses at me, but anyway I didn’t tag it as Book Eight on the reading list, when in fact, it is book eight.

Likewise Book Nine didn’t make the to-read list at the beginning of the year, mostly because I didn’t know of it then.  A new friend of mine, Dave Harrity, of Antler and my post about building community fame, encouraged me to read William Stafford since, surprise surprise, I hadn’t heard of read anything by him yet.  I am poorly versed in poets.

I ordered The Darkness Around Us Is Deep, selected poems of William Stafford and have been taking them in small bites.  I enjoyed the collection for its down to earthiness, its concern with natural and spiritual matters alike, the subtle and honest ways in which he addresses these issues, and how he invites so many characters into his work, especially his parents’ voices, which are expressive and unique.

There are many poems in the collection that I’ve flagged as favorites, but one in particular stuck close, and it is short, so I will quote it here:

“Indian Caves in the Dry Country”

These are some canyons
we might use again

When I read this the first time, I read the first line as “There are some canyons,” rather than “these,” which brought me in deep with my own personal experience.  But I think the same effect is achieved with the accurate “These.”  It is a stark and simple poem. For me it conjures up the “canyons in the dry country” I’ve been through in life. At the time I couldn’t see any use for the canyon or the dry country, maybe didn’t even see any shelter like the caves mentioned in the title, but walking again into a similar canyon I can pull up what was in my heart and mind previously, and revisit that cave for shelter and direction.  I know what I need to do or how to cope because I’ve been in this cave before.

On a much broader level, Stafford’s poem is humbling for a nation of proud, prosperous people. Maybe someday we will actually return to those Indian caves.  He doesn’t make a statement about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, just that it is possible we might use them again, once we’ve burnt out our wealth and our industry.

Enough of me trying to analyze and explain a short little ditty that struck a chord with me.  There are many other fine poems by Stafford I won’t go into right now, but perhaps a quick list of favorites from the book would suffice? — I’ll list them here: Allegiances, How to Regain Your Soul, Traveling through the Dark, Ultimate Problems, Serving with Gideon, Saint Matthew and All, Looking Across the Bridge, Earth Dweller, Mr. or Mrs. Nobody, At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border, and Meditation.

The fun of good poetry collections is that probably if I return to Stafford again in a few years my list of poems that touched me in some way will be markedly different.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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