Each January, lovers of literature meet to read favorite examples of Stafford?s work, talk about the poet?s influence on their lives, tell stories about the writer, or read selections of their own work in the spirit of Stafford. Local authors will begin the reading followed by volunteers from the audience. This year?s reading is sponsored by Friends of William Stafford and Linfield?s English department and the Nicholson Library. It is free and open to the public. For more information, call 503-883-2517.
Stafford was born in Hutchinson, Kan., in 1914. He received degrees from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and was a professor at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. Though he was in his 40s when his first book came out, he went on to publish over 60 other books and received the National Book Award and many other honors. In 1975 he was named Oregon?s Poet Laureate. Stafford?s poetry and other writing conveys a pacifist and humanistic spirit and at the same time exhibits a quality of Midwestern American pragmatism.
Two of the most repeated anecdotes about Stafford are that he rose early every morning, before the rest of his family was awake, and, in that time between sleep and the day?s business, wrote whatever poem or draft came to him; and that when he met with students who complained of writer?s block he advised them to "lower your standards." His poems often used indirection to make a shrewd statement about humanity and our place in the universe, such as in his poem, "At the Bomb Testing Site," where he focuses not on the development of the atomic bomb itself but rather on a small, seemingly insignificant creature.
True to his life?s practice, on the day he died unexpectedly at his home in Lake Oswego in 1993, Stafford rose early and wrote one more poem. An excerpt reads:
You can?t tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I?m [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. "You don?t have to
prove anything," my mother said. "Just be ready
for what God sends." I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.