Oregon poet laureate would have been 100 on day of the event

William StaffordWilliam Stafford wrote a poem every day for 50 years, published dozen of books of poetry and prose and was Oregon’s Poet Laureate.

This year, 100 years after his birth, towns and cities all over the world are celebrating — especially in Oregon and North Plains.

Stafford certainly drove by the town as evidenced by the poem taken from his first book of poetry, “Traveling Through the Dark.” The namesake poem is about finding a dead doe on Wilson River Road near North Plains, published when he was 48.

The Friends of the North Plains Public Library and Friends of the Banks Public Library are hosting a centennial celebration Friday, Jan. 17 in North Plains. The event recently sold out, but there are local happenings throughout the month to celebrate the Stafford centennial.

“Discovering William Stafford” will appear on OPB TV Thursday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m., and on “Think Out Loud” on OPB at noon on Friday, Jan. 17.

There will be a Stafford poetry celebration Saturday, Jan. 25, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Forest Grove City Library. There will be readings from “The Darkness Around Us” and other poems written in the Stafford style, and cake.

There will also be celebrations Saturday, Jan. 18 at the Tigard Public Library, and on Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Hillsboro Public Library.

Visit for a complete listing of events.

Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford, who is also a writer, will read his father’s works at the North Plains event.

Portland author Brian Doyle, who read to a packed house in North Plains almost a year ago as the author selected for the town’s “One Book, One Community” book group, will introduce Kim Stafford at the celebration.

William Stafford “flowered here in part because of the way Oregon is much less about class and money than other places,” said Doyle, author of “Mink River.”

“It’s about hope and creativity and endurance and hard work and facing toward what can be rather than what was.”

Heidi Fuiten, a Friends member and library employee, didn’t know Doyle and Kim Stafford were friends when she was working on arranging the celebration — or that the only date the two had open was William Stafford’s 100th birthday.

“It was really an accident,” Fuiten said.

“I love the fact that he thought everyone was a poet, if only we pay attention to the miracle of what is and report on it without fuss and bluster, and I especially admire what I think was his deeper genius — his deft asking of questions about war and peace,” Doyle said of Stafford, who was a life-long pacifist and a conscientious objector during World War II, which sparked his first book of prose, “Down in my Heart.”

“[I have] total respect for the famous poet,” Doyle said. “But I think his greater art was making people think how, as he said, that ‘violence is a failure of the imagination.’”

Stafford, who grew up in Kansas, describes being in high school and riding his bike one autumn afternoon to the Cimarron River. As he took in the sunset, he said in an essay, “That encounter with the size and serenity of the earth and its neighbors in the sky has never left me. The earth was my home; I would never feel lost while it held me.”

Brent Johnson, director of Pacific University’s Writing Resource Center has his own list of favorite Stafford poems, including “Ask Me,” “Across Kansas,” “I’m Any Old Tree,” “This Life,” “Malheur Before Dawn,” and “Things I Learned Last Week.”

“What I have learned about poetry from Stafford is how to create friction out of subtlety, especially with how he pairs simple, concrete images—say, a rock or barn in a field—with a sense of mystery,” Johnson said.  “Because of this, I can enjoy the mood his poetry evokes upon the first reading. Then I can enjoy the poem intellectually with a second pass. He hits both the senses and the mind in his work.”

“His greatest gift may have been his belief that writing is one of the great free human activities, available to all of us, and a way to deepen our understanding and enrich our connections with one another,” said Kim Stafford.

“I think my father’s writing teaches us to savor the hidden, enriching dimensions of daily life. At our program Jan. 17, I look forward to exploring ways this can happen for individuals, for families, for communities.”

Call the North Plains Public Library at 503-647-5051 to check if more tickets have become available or to turn in reserved tickets that won’t be used.

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