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William Stafford Centennial Celebration


It's about more than poetry

by: SUBMITTED - William Stafford U.S. and Oregon Poet Laureate will be honored at the Stafford Centennial Celebration at Molalla Library Sunday, Jan. 26.In honor of the great American novelist and poet William Stafford, the Molalla Public Library will hold a William Stafford Centennial Celebration on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 1:30 p.m. The community is invited.

The event celebrates the late William Stafford’s hundredth birthday, and will have four featured guests who knew Stafford personally, including poets David Hedges and Patricia Love, colleagues of Stafford, and Cindy Stewart Rinier and Larry Anderson, former students of the poet at Lewis and Clark.

Besides the presentations, the day will include audience discussion, and refreshments. All guests will be invited to read relevant poems, ask questions, or simply enjoy the presentation.

In addition, several young people from the ongoing “Oregon Reads” project will display their original writing about Stafford and his poetry.

If time permits, the movie “Every War has Two Losers,” based upon Stafford’s book of the same name, will be shown.

“So it’s not all poetry,” Anderson said. “He was really admired by his students. On the one hand, he was a soft and gentle man and very cognizant of the rights of others, but on the other hand he had this underlying strength and could defend himself intellectually. A lot of his poetry was really accessible. I used to tell people he was the guy who taught me how to think.”

Anderson was one of Stafford’s literature students, not poetry. “But I was around him at Lewis and Clark in 1961 and 62,” he said.

Stafford, an Oregonian, won the National Book Award in Poetry in 1963 for his book "Traveling Through the Dark." He also served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a position now known as poet laureate. He was named Poet Laureate for Oregon and for the United States.

One striking feature of Stafford's career as a poet was its late start. He was 48 years old when his first major collection of poetry, "Traveling Through the Dark," was published, The title poem is one of his best known works. It describes encountering a recently killed doe on a mountain road. Before pushing the doe into a canyon, the poet discovers that she was pregnant and the fawn inside is still alive.

Stafford had a quiet daily ritual of writing, and his writing focuses on the ordinary. The gentle quotidian style of his poetry has been compared to Robert Frost. His poems are typically short, focusing on the earthy, accessible details appropriate to a specific locality. In a 1971 interview, Stafford said: "I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."

Stafford died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego, on Aug. 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the lines, "'You don't have to / prove anything,' my mother said. 'Just be ready / for what God sends.'"

In 2008, the Stafford family gave William Stafford's papers, including the 20,000 pages of his daily writing, to the Special Collections Department of Lewis and Clark College.

A decorated and prolific writer, he published more than 65 volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a National Book Award in 1963, Shelley Memorial Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was named America’s and Oregon’s Poet Laureate.

This year, the library event will be sponsored by The Friends of William Stafford, Molalla Writers Group and, for the first time, the Molalla Public Library. call Larry Anderson at 503-829-8269.