On February 12, We Belong in History: Writing with William Staffordwas honored with a reading at Broadway Books. Every seat in the house was full and, after a brief introduction by Michael Berliner, Kim Stafford entertained all in attendance with a story about his father’s attempt at writing an autobiography. It seems that Stafford discovered, forty-five pages into his manuscript, that everything of significance in his life had taken place before the age of fifteen—an insight that Kim easily related to our young friends and poets in the audience that evening. After that, Emily Kendal Frey shared a few of her favorite Stafford poems, reading in a careful, confident tone, and peppering each piece with commentary on how it related to her own understanding of the world.
Emily’s turn at the podium was followed by student readings of their own work. First, Anushka read three thought-provoking and moving pieces: “The Power of a Poem,” “I am from Oregon,” and “Someone Walks by Rocky Waters.” The second and third readers, Iris and Corey, were both a little shy about sharing, but once they were won over by our applause, we were rewarded with two very powerful poems: “My Momma and I,” and “Can You Hear the Beat,” respectively. Kim Stafford followed these readings with the story of a young poet friend who signed up for lessons in self-defense, only to be told that, as a poet, he had already attained the highest level of defense—the ability to make people stop and think. The ever-affable Berliner ended the event with his insightful thoughts on how poetry moves us, and how it is our duty as lovers of poetry to instill its importance in future generations.
I can’t help but think that any of us who didn’t enter that reading with black belts in poetry must have certainly left with our belts a shade or two darker.
After our well-attended launch event at In Other Words, we’ve scheduled another event to celebrate We Belong in History on Feb. 12, this time at Broadway Books on NE Broadway. Kim Stafford and the poet Emily Kendal Frey will be there, as will some of the student poets from the collection. This of course has gotten us thinking about what makes a good book-related event and, with the William Stafford Centennial going on, there’s been no lack of choice.
Paulann Petersen and student poet Dylan P. at the We Belong in History launch.
Our previous event for We Belong in History was something of a family affair; it was intimate and cozy, with students and poets crowded together as they are in the best sort of seminars. This suits our role as a learning press, but it isn’t by any means the only way to run this kind of event. Unfortunately, the weather kept us away from the grand Stafford Centennial Celebration put on by Literary Arts, but late last year there was a smaller, quieter event that provided a useful contrast with our own plans. Saturday December 14, 2013, saw the release of Winterward, William Stafford’s creative doctoral dissertation, by Tavern Books. More than eighty Stafford fans settled into the pews of the Eliot Chapel at Portland’s First Unitarian Church to hear Kim Stafford, Paulann Petersen, and Stafford archivist Paul Merchant read some of William Stafford’s poems and tell stories about both the book and the poet, some of which will be published later in 2014 as part of Tavern Books’ Honest Pint subscription series.
Kim Stafford, Paul Merchant, and Paulann Petersen at the Winterward launch.
Perhaps it was the setting, but the atmosphere was subdued and respectful, although alert with interest. In spite of the opportunity to mingle afterwards, there was a clear division between the speakers, or performers, and the audience. It was like a university lecture, or perhaps a memorial service, a celebration of a poet’s legacy rather than a continuation of it—and both are necessary. We’re glad the Stafford Centennial has provided the opportunity for all kinds of celebrations of the poet and the teacher; we’re especially glad that we have been a part of it—that we, as students of publishing and poetry, belong in history, too.