Oregon's poet laureate: Kim Stafford wants to take poetry 'into the world, people's lives'

Poet, teacher and author Kim Stafford is Oregon’s ninth poet laureate. He was named to the post by Gov. Kate Brown last week for a two-year term. His father, William Stafford, held the post from 1975 to 1990. (KATU)

Poet, teacher and author Kim Stafford is Oregon’s ninth poet laureate.

He was named to the post by Gov. Kate Brown last week for a two-year term.

His father, William Stafford, held the post from 1975 to 1990.

He shared with us his thoughts on the role of the poet laureate and how poetry can change our world.

THE ROLE OF OREGON'S POET LAUREATE

I think the poet laureate takes poetry out into the world, into people’s lives. How could one person’s solo message get to another person? Well, through a few words carefully chosen in a song-like structure of some kind that will get the message through.

I think of poetry as a tool for human connection, intimacy and understanding. Not something out of a book, but something person to person.

What the Oregon cultural trust has created now is much more directed and specified. You are to work in schools, libraries communities to advance literacy, to use poetry to address community concerns. It’s a much more engaged project now.

THE LOVE OF WORDS AND LANGUAGE HE INHERITED FROM HIS MOTHER AND FATHER

Kids had made fun of my curly hair, when I had more. And she said, “Well, you know when we consider providence, we must admit it’s fair that some have brilliant minds, and some have curly hair.’ And I didn’t know what to make of that, but it somehow made it easier.

A few little words put together in a certain way, can change your perspective about something you don’t have to suffer about quite as much.

My dad used to say, 'Well, Oregon’s OK, but the trees and the mountains get in the way of the scenery. So he liked to be out East and so we rambled all over Oregon.

In a way, I’m carrying the torch. In another way I’m carrying my own torch.

WHERE HE FINDS INSPIRATION

I call myself an eavesdropper on the world. Constantly taking note of the things that are coming in. Things that come from my mind. Things that come from the street. People around me. Reading.

There’s a constant river into the spirit and the mind.

Poetry is just saying, OK, I’ll take some of that and put it back out.

ON TEACHING PROSE AND POETRY

My favorite writing prompt is “I remember, dot dot dot. There’s always something there. You ask a roomful of writers, just start with I remember you know, and very important things come forth.

FAVORED WRITERS

Chaucer, Anonymous, the greatest poet of all time, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson. 00.08.33 8 sec

Emily Dickinson in some ways is more modern than anyone writing today. We still haven’t caught up with her.

ENJOYING POETRY

If you’re looking for poems that will please you, you may have to do some looking. Poetry is abundant with many kinds of voices.

Each person has to find their own entry point. I think as you read more poetry you become more able to enjoy more kinds of poetry.

It’s a search. It’s like finding what kind of food do you like. What kind of music do you like. The only way to is to try it out.

ON WRITING

Some days as soon as I open my pen there’s something there that has been percolating in my mind that I’ve been carrying.

One of my students said, “The muse comes to the moving pen, not the pen waiting for an idea. Writing is hands-on thinking.

Writing is in some ways just a way to pay attention to what the beauties are around you.

You don’t have to be a poet. You have to be a human being who has an affection or a feeling, an anger, something impelling them that they want to learn more about. And you learn about it by writing.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Being the Oregon poet laureate is not about Kim Stafford. It’ not about me. And it’s not even about poetry, really. It’s about how I and others can use poetry, writing and reading poetry to address the challenges of our time.

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