Paul Merchant is the former director of the William Stafford Archives at the Aubrey R. Watzek Library, Lewis & Clark College. He is the author of several poetry collections including Bone from a Stag’s Heart and Some Business of Affinity. He coedited, with Vincent Wixon, William Stafford’s The Answers Are Inside the Mountains: Meditations on the Writing Life and Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer’s Vocation.
Sound of the Ax brings together for the first time over four hundred aphorisms and twenty-six aphoristic poems by one of America’s most essential poets of the twentieth century. Many readers are familiar with the trenchant nature of William Stafford’s poems, with lines such as “Justice will take us millions of intricate moves” and “Your job is to find what the world is trying to be,” but have never had the opportunity to read a sustained selection from the thousands of wise, witty, and penetrating statements he created in over forty years of daily writing in his journal. In keeping with Stafford’s varied interests, the aphorisms in Sound of the Ax explore many topics—war and peace, involvement, aging, appearances, fear, egotism, writing, nature, animals, suffering, faith, living an ethical life, and so on—with his incisive view. The poems are either made up entirely or primarily aphorisms, and range from the well-known “Things I Learned Last Week” to some never before collected. Readers will find much to enjoy and to think about here, and will return over and over to Sound of the Ax for inspiration, pleasure, and wisdom from an author noted for his integrity and mindful living.