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Readings honor life of poet William Stafford

by: ELLEN SPITALERI - Greg Chaimov, left, and Tom Hogan leaf through two of William Stafford's books at the Ledding Library, which will host an event honoring Stafford on  Jan. 12.Take those William Stafford poetry books off the shelf, pick your favorite ones and get ready to do what should be done with fine poems — read them aloud at three upcoming events celebrating the Oregon poet.

All three events bill themselves as birthday celebrations, as Stafford was born on Jan. 17, 1914. He died Aug. 28, 1993.

Stafford’s first major collection of poetry, “Traveling Through the Dark,” published when he was 48, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1963. He was appointed Oregon Poet Laureate in 1974 by Gov. Tom McCall, and served for 15 years. He also served as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, a title later changed to U.S. Poet Laureate.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Stafford’s birth, and plans are already under way for a major celebration of his life and works in January 2014.

The first Stafford celebration takes place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Ledding Library’s Pond House, adjacent to the library at 2215 S.E. Harrison St., in Milwaukie. It will be hosted by poet and former Milwaukie City Councilor Greg Chaimov, and Tom Hogan, a poet who is also the chairman of the Milwaukie Poetry Series Poetry Committee.

The event features readings of Stafford’s works by poets Gail Barker, Mary Dettmann, David Filer, Brett Kelver, Susanna Lundgren, Ron Rasch, Ron Talney, Jamie Wilks and Friends of William Stafford Board member Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s Poet Laureate. The local poets will also read their own works.

This is an important event, Hogan said, honoring “a wonderful poet who was a mentor and teacher.”

“Greg and I chose the poets, because we want to honor people who are poets themselves,” Hogan said, adding that the highlight of the event is the sharing of poems, as “poetry is meant to be read out loud.”

“Really what the event is for is to have the local community express kinship with the poetry and values that Professor Stafford gave the world. Even people who don’t have poetry as part of their regular lives will most likely like Stafford’s work; most is simple and positive in a way that resonates with people who don’t have literary training,” Chaimov said.

College authors

Hosted by Elisabeth Miles and CCC English instructor Trista Cornelius, the Third Monday Authors’ Evening Group and the college, the next event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16, in the Literary Arts Room, Roger Rook Hall, RR220, Clackamas Community College, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City.

“We have hosted this event at CCC in the past and want to continue with the tradition because Stafford was not only a deeply loved Oregon writer, he was a teacher. Rather than reading some of his poetry, I plan to read some excerpts of his thoughts about teaching writing,” said Cornelius, a full-time English instructor at CCC, and a writer of essays and creative nonfiction.

Two of the featured readers will be Kate Gray and Sue Mach. Gray is a published poet and teacher, while Mach is a playwright with two plays being produced in Portland right now, as well as a full-time English instructor, she added.

Other featured readers include Carl Clapp, Ryan Davis, Rose Lefebvre, Jeff McAlpine and Friends of William Stafford board member Nancy Winklesky.

“Groups all over the world are honoring William Stafford with readings during his birth month. We all admire his poetry and have been involved in other readings over the years,” Miles said.

She is a writer, mostly of poetry, who also is a member of Chrysalis, a women’s writing group at CCC. She started the Third Monday group about five years ago with some of the women from Chrysalis, and it evolved from there, as men were added to the group. The focus is on poetry, and the group meets at the home of one of the members on the third Monday of every month.

Oregon City celebration

The third celebration, held at the Oregon City Public Library, 606 John Adams St., takes place at 7 p.m. on Stafford’s birth date, Jan. 17. Hosted by award-winning poet Christine Delea and Friends of William Stafford board member Nancy Winklesky, the event features readings by Lyssa Tall Anolik, Karen Braucher, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, Diane Holland, David Rutiezer and Laura Weeks, among others.

Honoring Stafford’s contribution to poetry serves many purposes, Delea said.

“It allows the region to remember a great poet, a caring teacher and a man of integrity. William Stafford did not just live in Oregon; he made it a better place with both his words and his actions,” she said.

Another plus is that everyone learns more about Stafford, they get to meet and chat with other local poets, they get the chance to read aloud themselves, and “they get to spend some time with smart, literary people, visit places they may not normally go to and get out and about during our gloomy winter weather.”

Why celebrate Stafford’s work?

“So many people have been affected by William Stafford. It’s wonderful to hear anecdotes from the poets and audience members about Stafford’s influence on their poetry, or their work ethic, or their moral compass, or their understanding of some great issue,” Delea said.

“The Carnegie Center is a wonderful venue for this celebration. The Oregon City librarians are super. I have a big group of poets reading this year, and they are very diverse. There will be something for everyone as far as theme, tone, style, etc. I would especially love to see new poets, poets new to Oregon and poetry students attend,” she added.

The library likes to host events like this, said Maureen Cole, library director, “because these events promote literature, poetry, the enjoyment of literature and poetry and local authors. These events encourage the participation of regular readers by creating a forum for them to read in front of an audience, either from a work by William Stafford or a piece of their own. Especially for poetry, these opportunities are rare.”

Poetry, Cole added, “is meant to be read out loud and is only at its full potential when it is being shared verbally. It is not a form of literature that most of us spend much time with, but a lot of it is really accessible, thought provoking and sometimes even fun. Good poetry does a lot in a really short space. Supporting local poets by attending this event is akin to supporting any sort of art event; it hopefully enhances the lives of both the reader and the listener.”

Poet Laureate

Paulann Peterson, who will also participate in Lake Oswego’s celebration of Stafford’s work on Jan. 15, said the events honor a “wonderful poet whose work speaks to people of all ages, to folks of all backgrounds and experiences.”

It is appropriate to have local poets reading from Stafford’s works and their own at these celebrations, because Stafford “was remarkably hospitable to other writers. He knew that poetry belongs to all of us. He encouraged everyone to write poems,” Peterson said.

“The inclusiveness of these events makes them very appealing. People who ordinarily don’t come to poetry readings do come to the January birthday celebrations. Often they come with a favorite Stafford poem to read, one they have posted near their computer monitor, or taped to the refrigerator door.” 

Her favorite Stafford work is “At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border,” because it is a “plainly spoken and remarkably moving appeal to our more peaceful natures.” 

In fact, Peterson added, “to celebrate William Stafford is to celebrate peace-making. A pacifist, he served as a conscientious objector in World War II. With every word he spoke, with every action he took, with every poem he wrote, he bore witness to his belief in the nonviolent resolution of conflict.”

Fast Facts

For more information about William Stafford, and to see a complete list of birthday celebrations honoring him, visit williamstafford.org.

Three local Stafford events will take place in January:

1. Jan. 12, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Pond House, adjacent to the Milwaukie Ledding Library, 2215 S.E. Harrison St.

2. Clackamas Community College from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 16, in Literary Arts Room, Roger Rook Hall, RR220, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City.

3. At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17, Oregon City Public Library, 606 John Adams St.

All three events will feature readings of Stafford’s work by local poets, and audience members are encouraged to bring their own favorites to read aloud.

Call the Ledding Library at: 503-786-7580 or the Oregon City Library at 503-657-8269.

Elisabeth Miles and CCC English instructor Trista Cornelius will host the Clackamas Community College event. Contact them by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,

where the unknown soldier did not die.

This is the field where grass joined hands,

where no monument stands,

and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,

unfolding their wings across the open.

No people killed — or were killed — on this ground

hallowed by neglect and an air so tame

that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border” copyright 1975, 1998, by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted from “The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems” with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minn. This poem also appears in the newly publishedEvery War Has Two Losers,” Milkweed Editions, 2003.



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