As part of National Poetry Month, the Lewis & Clark Alumni and Parent Program invited poet Kim Stafford to read from his upcoming book, “Singer Come from Afar.” Over 170 people attended the virtual event on April 1, ranging from the LC’s class of ’67 all the way to LC President Wim Wiewel and his wife Alice. Many of the attendees were past students or colleagues of Stafford, who has long been an important literary figure in Oregon.
Following in the footsteps of his late father William Stafford, Kim Stafford started studying English literature and poetry from an early age. Stafford began teaching at LC in 1979 and is currently the director of the Northwest Writing Institute at the LC Grad School. He also served as the Oregon Poet Laureate from 2018 to 2020.
Stafford began the event with three poems from his upcoming book. He explained that much of his recent work focuses less on what the poem “is” and more on who the poem serves. The first poem addressed teachers, the second, Donald Trump and the third a customs agent who had confiscated his friend’s honey.
He continued by reading some of his “Pandemic Poems,” a series of works shared over his social media. “Pandemic Coffee,” one of the simplest of these poems, is also one of his most widely shared and appreciated pieces, according to Stafford. It begins with: “A heaping dose of darkness, / a slender pour of light, / a ringing spoon of silver / transforming wrong to right.”
With regards to his technique, Stafford explained that he usually follows a three-step process. He starts off thinking about a recent experience and writes a short journal entry to get his thoughts onto paper. Next, he works on a title to focus the poem, and then finally starts writing in verse.
Stafford’s poetry is not usually difficult to understand, nor is it full of hidden meaning.
“I’m not trying to write good poems,” Stafford said. “I’m trying to connect to people, and to me that means the poem itself is short, the poem rarely goes beyond half a page for me.”
The way Stafford shares his poetry has also affected the length of his poems.
“My choice of putting forth (poetry on Instagram) has shaped my practice,” Stafford said.
For readers that enjoy short and approachable poetry, Stafford’s new book “Singer Come from Afar” is likely to please. The book is currently available to preorder from Red Hen Press,and will be available starting April 27. A large selection of Stafford’s work can also be found at Watzek Library.