Courtesy Kim Stafford
Courtesy Kim Stafford
Kendrick Moholt photo
As Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford wants nothing less than to save the world.
His means: bringing forth people’s voices — by “doing all I can to abolish reticence, and help people tell their stories, their feelings, their dreams and ideas,” he said in an email exchange with Coast Weekend.
Stafford will drop by the Cannon Beach Library on Sunday, Oct. 21, as part of the Northwest Authors Series.
He plans to read from books he’s published on “reconciliation, earth connection, consolation, and blessing,” he said. He’ll also discuss “the process of writing to enhance the life of the writer, and the health of the community.”
Stafford, an assistant professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, is director of the college’s Northwest Writing Institute. His father, William Stafford, served as the state’s Poet Laureate from 1975 to 1990, and, before that, as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1970 to ’71.
A prolific author of poems, essays, fiction and nonfiction, Kim said he prefers to write about relationships: “who I am to who I think I am … who I am to who I was … who I am to where I am … who we are to who we might be,” he said. “Along the way, images and processes from the natural world often help me tell human stories.”
Calling Kim Stafford one of Oregon’s “most generous literary teachers,” Gov. Kate Brown said when she appointed him last summer: “There are many ways to serve this state and among them is clarity of language and passion of purpose, which may travel from one soul to another through poetry.”
Serving the human story
Growing up, Kim was more privy to his father’s product than his process. The elder Stafford would write early in the morning — at 3 or 4 a.m. — “so I only saw the books come forth, not the actual craft of making poems,” Kim said.
Though William Stafford wrote many thousands of poems, Kim only ever saw his father writing once, “when Portland’s mayor Bud Clark asked him for a poem on the Great Blue Heron,” he said.
“When he got the call, we were in a motel in Washington, D.C., and my father sat down and wrote his poem, which I later read to the City Council,” Kim recalled.
It was only after his father died, and Kim “inherited the care of his 22,000 pages of daily writing,” that he could “watch him work,” he said. Those pages now live at williamstaffordarchives.org.
Asked how his father’s poetry influenced his own, Stafford said it wasn’t so much his style that helped him, but “his commitment to the process of daily writing, and his consistent idea that poetry is not about success or fame, but about honesty and service to the human story.
“A poem is a kind of coin that can be minted by one writer, but then travel to sustain exchange among many others down the line,” he continued. “As my father wrote at one point, ‘Let me be a plain, unmarked envelope passing through the world.’”
‘Where miracles happen’
Joseph Bernt, who pens a Cannon Beach Gazette column about happenings at the library, took a class from Kim’s father on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” at Lewis & Clark in the 1960s.
Bernt said Kim Stafford, at heart, is “a Romantic poet in terms of looking to the past for explanations and commentary about the present,” he said.
He also enjoys Kim’s use of “the language of ordinary, hardworking, common people in his writing,” he said. “He hides his craft, his art, quite well. He speaks directly to his readers as he channels his subjects.”
Stafford said a friend recently pointed out: “we have two things in this life: a vote and a voice.”
“The vote is very important in a democracy, but it is finite, numerical. But the voice is infinitely expansive, as each of us becomes more skilled and ready to tell our visions, (our) struggles, our hopes, our proposals for advancing the human project on earth,” Stafford said. “I want to support that community of expansive voices.”
His father once wrote: “I must be willingly fallible in order to deserve my place in the realm where miracles happen.”
“That is,” Kim explained, “one must begin by surrendering to the process of writing, in order to be ready to find what only that process can bring forward.”