20.7.07

in the belly of the road...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Frank Stanford

Their Names Are Spoken


Where the saplings come up
In the belly of the road
Nobody has traveled for so long
I found the place you bear east

And walk over the hills
Until the sun goes down
And come onto smoke and goats
And the music of no socks

For a gate they use the stead
Of a tarnished brass bed
The little winds that came up
Like a child soaping a saddle

We dream on
Now night a cool moss
On the undersides of the cold ground
Keeps growing on the stones

*

Frank Stanford, for me, is the most undervalued of important American poets. Few have read him, but his writing of a dark and fallen South is on par with the novels of William Faulkner and the stories of Flannery O’Connor. In writing ability and scope, Stanford is their equal. The subject matter, tone, and language are quite similar. He died by his own hand in 1978 – and only twenty-nine – yet he had already published seven volumes of poetry. Two more posthumous collections would appear within a year of his death. Of those nine books, only one remains in print: The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. A volume of selected poems, The Light the Dead See (Univ. of Arkansas), was published in 1991 and serves as an excellent introduction to the poet’s work.

In terms of tone and landscape, “Their Names Are Spoken” is typical of Stanford’s writing style. The voice in the poem is a bit world-weary but never loses connection to the physical world. Stanford is always specific and clear in his use of description, as is evident in the opening stanza:

In the belly of the road
Nobody has traveled for so long
I found the place you bear east

The landscape of Stanford’s poetic world is very reminiscent of the visual world of James Whale’s films: stark, murky, dissipated.

When the poem begins, readers fully recognize the speaker’s isolation without understanding the cause, and as the poem develops, we empathize with this journey for relief, for some bit of freedom, for a kindred voice. He writes: “And come onto smoke and goats / And the music of no socks”. The language, infused with reality and myth, is very concise and exact.

The poem’s second half displays an odd world – but a world that is found. A tarnished bed stead used as a gate, which Stanford no doubt employs to speak volumes with brevity about character, allows entrance into the unusual:
The little winds that came up
Like a child soaping a saddle

Much of Stanford’s writing relates the archetypal conflict of child becoming adult in a world of death.

The closing lines are stunning in their dark beauty, and are filled with the faintest shimmer of hope:
Now night a cool moss
On the undersides of the cold ground
Keeps growing on the stones

The growing – represented in the child to adult – is also evident in the human well of emotions – and here insert the term of your choice: soul, spirit, breath, conscience, voice – that rises, that fills.

6 comments:

david dodd lee said...

Stanford has been one of the
most important influences on me,
that's for sure, since the early
nineties when I started buying
his old limited edition chaps from C. D. Wright for large sums of money. I was working at a fish hatchery, living out in some woods,
reading a lot, hardly talking at all, so it was Stanford Ftanford Stanford

sam of the ten thousand things said...

That's a great story, David. Stanford is a writer to get lost in. Thanks for the read.

LKD said...

Thank you for this poem, Sam.

I'm not in love with it but it did remind me of a poet whose work I hadn't read enough, a poet whose name I'd forgotten.

His voice in this poem, and in manyh of the poems I read this morning after being prompted here to go in search of more Stanford, is old. Certainly, not the voice of a young poet. It genuinely surprised me to read in your commentary that he was only 29 when he committed suicide. I was certain as I read "Their Names Are Spoken" that it had been written by a much older man.

Right now, I'm in love love love with "Wedding" which I posted on my blog, and "Black Swan" but I'm sure when I go back and read more of his work, there will be many more I'll fall in love with.

Again, my sincere thanks to you, Sam, for this addition to your anthology, and to your whole anthology. I just reread "Try to Love the Mutiliated World" last night while searching for another poem by Zagajewski (I was looking for "Moths" but can't find it anywhere online--and I'm not sure if it's kosher or legal for that matter to post it on my blog directly from the "Luminous Things" anthology) and as I read it, I kept thinking, my god, this is beautiful--and, geez, it's awfully familiar to.

Of course, you'd already selected it a while back to be included in your anthology.

So, merci, Sam. Merci.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for reading, Laurel. "Wedding" is such a fine piece, as well.

32poems said...

Thanks for writing about Stanford. I agree that he is undervalued. His work is spare and unique, and I find myself returning to it.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

"Spare and unique" is a great discription of his work. I appreciate the read, Deborah.