Today I put a copy of my new book (Liveaboard) in the mail to Terry Tempest Williams. I know, bold move. I sent her the book because one of the poems is dedicated to her, and because her bird writing inspired so much of the book. I wanted to find a way to say thank you, and maybe find a way to start a conversation. I know I probably won't ever hear from her. And that's ok. I've met her twice and I know she's fabulous and sensitive and grateful and all the things we hope for from our favorite authors. And if she writes a brilliant paragraph in her next book instead of an email to me, I'm good with that.
But of course a little part of me is hoping anyway. When I was a sophomore in college my then-writing teacher, Ira Sadoff (a brilliant poet--if you don't know his work you should) found out I was from Oregon and told me I should write to William Stafford. At that time Stafford was teaching at Lewis & Clark College, which was just a short bus-ride from my house. So I did. I emailed him a letter telling how how much I loved his poems and including a few of my own. And a few months later I got a letter back from him, inviting me up to see him when I came home for Christmas break.
Naturally, I was over the moon. That Christmas I rode the bus up to see him, and we had a lovely talk, sitting in the library, about poetry and my plans. He was as generous and amazing as you'd expect him to be, if you know his work. I don't remember everything he told me, but I remember he told me to keep writing, and that he treated me as a real writer. As an undegrad, that meant everything to me.
After he died, one of the poems published posthumously was about that day in the library. I don't know, of course, that this poem is about me, but I think it's a pretty safe bet. Here it is:
Emily, This Place, and You
She got out of the car here one day,
and it was snowing a little. She could see
little glimpses of those mountains, and away down
there by the river the curtain of snow would
shift, and those deep secret places looked
all the more mysterious. It was quiet, you know.
Her life seemed quiet, too. There had been troubles,
sure--everyone has some. But now, looking out there,
she felt easy, at home in the world--maybe like
a casual snowflake. And some people loved her.
She would remember that. And remember this place.
As you will, wherever you go after this day,
just a stop by the road, and a glimpse of someone's life,
and your own, too, how you can look out any time,
just being part of things, getting used to being a person,
taking it easy, you know.
William Stafford, The Way It Is
Of course, I deeply treasure this poem. And feel so blessed that even after his death Stafford has continued to give to us in so many way. And this poem has served as a good reminder to me to stop being so afraid, in so many ways. Why not just ask? Maybe that journal will take the poem. Maybe that publisher will take your book. Maybe someday Terry and I will sit in a library together, and talk deeply and beautifully about our writing. I can always ask.
Emily Wall is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast. You can find her online at: www.emily-wall.com.