National Book Awards Acceptance Speeches

William Stafford, Winner of the 1963 POETRY AWARD for TRAVELING THROUGH THE DARK

At the moment of writing, when one of those fortunate strokes of composition takes place, the poet does sometimes feel that he is accomplishing an exhilarating, a wonderful, a stupendous job; he glimpses at such times how it might be to overwhelm the universe by rightness, to do something peculiarly difficult to such a perfection that something like a revelation comes. For that instant, conceiving is knowing; the secret life in language reveals the very self of things.

It is awkward for the poet in our time to own up to such a grandiose feeling, and the feeling may not last long, nor make much lasting impression. But it is at the heart of the chore of creating. We may remember mostly the long, stupid look at the material before us, and then maybe a kind of slow, emotional thinking. That is a lonely, helpless feeling. At the time, the writer is responsible for everything, and at the same time he is simply lost. He has to be willing to stay lost until what he finds -- or what finds him -- has the validity that the instant (with him as its sole representative) can recognize -- at that moment he is transported, not because he wants to be, but because he can't help it. Out of the wilderness of possibility comes a vine without a name, and his poem is growing with it.