January 17 would have been William Stafford’s 100th birthday. Stafford was both a towering literary figure and a cultural touchstone for many Oregonians. He wrote more than 60 books before his death in 1993. He was a husband, a father, a teacher, and a poet whose work resonates for people still.
The former Oregon poet laureate, William Stafford also served as the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1971. His son, Kim Stafford, is now the literary executor of his estate. As part of the official year-long William Stafford Centennial, Kim Stafford has published a new collection of his father’s poems titled Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford.
You could say Oregon is bracing for something of a Stafford fever, with libraries in nearly every county signing on to make William Stafford books part of the Everybody Reads Program. You can find out more about the Oregon Art Beat show on William Stafford as well as other OPB coverage of his life here.
My favorite Stafford poem is “Yes.” It didn’t make it into the new collection, but it’s short enough to reproduce here.
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could you know. That’s why we wake
and look out—no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
Among other things, I love how it reminds me to focus just on what’s happening at that moment and to appreciate the small, beautiful things. It brought me to tears when I read it the first time and sometimes it still does.
On Friday, January 17, we’ll talk with Kim Stafford, current Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen and others at Multnomah County’s Central Library in downtown Portland. We’d like you to come as well — and bring your favorite Stafford poem and your thoughts on how it resonates in your life. The show is free and open to the public. The live broadcast will begin at noon. Doors open at 11:30 am.
You can see the Oregon Art Beat profile of William Stafford here.