To some — including the writer himself — it seems Doug Stanfield is coming into the writing world of poetry late in the proverbial game.
His wealth of experience in writing and editing was built over decades but predominantly through newspaper and public relations copy.
“I wanted to see if I could do something new at 64 … something interesting,” Stanfield says over a cup of coffee in downtown Sequim.
Now 72, his third book of poems, “Lifting Stones,” is on the cusp of release. The compendium of terse, pointed poems of love, hope, grief and loss — all themes Stanfield seems to come by honestly — sees its release on Tuesday, June 8, from Rootstock Publishing, a Montpelier, Vermont-based publisher.
Stanfield muses on the passage of time in the most personal, unflinching way in “Lifting Stones,” from fame and fortune unrequited to love lost, the publication’s pieces, as the collection is described by his publishers, “understand life by looking back along the trail” and “seeing clearly, he stacks personal, grounded word formations like rock cairns left for the next traveler.”
“Lifting Stones” was officially released June 8 at Rootstock Publishing’s website (rootstockpublishing.com) and is available for the book trade at Ingram.
“I got to a certain point, I started taking stock of things,” Stanfield says. “I wanted to do it in the most personal, honest way.
Whatever I was going to do, I wanted it to be universal.”
And that wasn’t going to happen writing press releases about million-dollar gifts for colleges an universities. Stanfield had a small stroke in April 2014, for a time losing much of the ability to use two fingers in one hand. He asked his wife to bring his laptop to the hospital, leaning on his writing background to fuel his rehabilitation.
Soon, he started posting his writings on a blog — anonymously at first — on hemmingplay.com.
“I didn’t expect to publish books,” he recalls. “(But) it was a pretty positive experience.”
He wrote “Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” an electronic children’s book, then compiled a self-published book in 2014 and another in early 2018.
“I didn’t care if they sold. And they didn’t.”
In April 2018, Stanfield’s wife died. She’d battled cancer five times previously over the preceding two decades, he recalls. While she fought the illness, Stanfield sat with a notebook by her bed, writing.
While some people hold on to the pain, Stanfield, confides, “I need to get it out.
I feel I can understand it better. It was an act of therapy.”
What followed was about two years of grieving, much of which informs “Lifting Stones.” While the collection is not chronological, they are primarily new with some tracing their origin to three or four years back.
“I wanted to leave examples for my sons that, if they get stuck in life, they can always try something new, like I did with poetry,” he says.
Stanfield grew up in western Ohio, the son of a teacher and a nurse. He earned a bachelor’s of science degree in sociology and political science from Wright State University, a master’s in journalism from University of Oregon. He worked as a fraud investigator for 10 years out of school before a long career in various forms of communication, from newspapers to academic public relations and more.
Like many writers, Stanfield has a wide breadth of reading interests, from history to philosophy and theology, and the literary appetite informs his word choices, the poet says. His influences include more recent writers such as Jim Harrison and Mary Oliver, while he delves back into Frost, Hesse, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Dickinson and Yeats for classic poetry and to Shakespeare, Hemingway and Steinbeck for prose.
“I love that amid the clear-eyed Mary Oliver-ish lyricism of Doug Stanfield’s poems, there are lines like: ‘ … older men and women bring experienced stupidity to the bed’,” author Lauren Kessler writes. “This is the work of a man who has lived, and learned — and continues to do so with both strength and vulnerability.”
It was the late, legendary poet/journalist Carl Sandburg who first truly turned Stanfield’s head when, just a third- or fourth-grader, he was captivated by a 33-and-a-third vinyl reading of Sandburg’s poetry, read by the author, that his father bought him.
Bringing “Lifting Stones” to life in current form took plenty of work in the editing process, Stanfield says, which takes a good amount of trust between the writer and editor; in this case, it’s Rootstock’s Samantha Kolber.
The editing, he says, became a process of shedding every unnecessary word and simply “tying to see things they really are.” That’s life on a literary knife’s edge: being self-critical enough to improve one’s writing but not so critical to the point one becomes paralysed by fear.
Over time, Stanfield notes, “I became convinced she (Kolber) was on my side.”
Rootstock is a hybrid publisher, meaning Stanfield fronts some money to produce the book and the publisher then does the legwork to promote it, thereby reducing the overall risk for the publishing company.