"A Ritual to Read Together," Becca Lachman

Athens Author Publishes Anthology Inspired by Famed Poet, Pacifist

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Historian David McCullough was once asked about the inspiration behind his work.

His reply was simple: “I try to write the kind of book that I would like to read.”

When Athens author Becca J.R. Lachman noticed that many of her writer friends had poems about or inspired by the late poet William Stafford, she went looking a collection of similar works, but came up short.

Cue insipration.

“I sought out such an anthology, but none existed. Instead, I discovered in an online search that Stafford’s centennial celebration was slated for 2014. ‘Are you awake?’ the Universe was asking me. ‘Are you listening?'”

This Friday not only marks the 100th birthday of the famed poet and pacifist–it also marks the release of Lachman’s new book, A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford.

The book, edited by Lachman, features an introduction co-written by poet Fred Marchant and William Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford (both pictured at right with Lachman).

According to the book’s Facebook page, “A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford takes its name from Stafford’s famous poem ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other,’ deliberately re-visioning the original title to reflect the community and diversity in such an anthology.

The Woodley Press publication offers never-before-published poems by Robert Bly, Toi Derricotte, Ted Kooser, Mary Rose O’Reilley and Jack Ridl, features work by current/past state and national poet laureates, retired policewomen, veterans, urban gardeners, karate instructors and high school English teachers, and includes a detailed study guide.

Although the book is new, Lachman’s interest in Stafford’s work reaches back to her college days.

“My MFA research at Bennington College focused on the intersections of everyday nonviolence and the writing life,” she writes in the forward to A Ritual… “Not surprisingly, William Stafford’s example surfaced. Connections between his life and mine made it clear that, though we’d never meet, I’d found an important teacher.”

At the time, Lachman was the same age as Stafford when he began his alternative service in World War II, which resonated with her.

“I also came from a family with close ties to both military service and conscientious objection,” she wrote. “Energized by my research on Stafford, I requested a library book called We Have Just Begun to Not Fight: An Oral History of Conscientious Objectors in Civilian Public Service during World War II. When it arrived, I was stunned to see the name of my maternal Mennonite grandpa in the table of contents. No one in my family knew the interview existed, and it revealed that Stafford and my late Grandpa Ivan served in forest service work camps just hours from each other.”

Lachman’s year is off to a good start. In addition to the new book, she is a recipient of a 2014 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, which she greeted with a mix of gratitude and rejuvenation.

“I’ve just gone through a long season of getting rejection letters as a literary artist,” she explained. “So this oasis and confidence is much needed!”

Lachman will sign copies of A Ritual… at Little Professor Book Center in Athens on Jan. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. She will be joined by local poets and anthology contributors Wendy McVicker and Brad Modlin. Cake and refreshments will be served in honor of William Stafford’s centennial.