Portland’s typical gloomy weather did little to stop Ooligan Press’s lively launch party at In Other Words Feminist Community Center for its latest title, We Belong in History: Writing with William Stafford. An in-house passion project, We Belong in History combines a selection of Stafford’s best work with submissions from Oregon’s finest student writers, seeking to establish what Oregon poet laureate Paulann Petersen hailed as “the best of conversations.”
Petersen, who wrote the introduction to the book, was among the sixty or so people who attended the standing-room-only event. History’s project manager, Michael Berliner, served as the emcee and introduced Petersen, who spoke of how she came to be involved in the creation of the book. When she learned of Ooligan’s call for submissions for a Stafford-inspired poetry anthology, she contacted the local educators she knew to encourage their students to participate. Her grandson Dylan and his friend Noah were among the students selected for publication, and this bit of chance as well as the level of community involvement led Petersen to call We Belong in History “a family book.”
Four of the students whose work is featured also appeared at the event to read their poetry aloud. Dylan, Petersen’s grandson, read “The Whip of Ice,” which was inspired by Stafford’s personification of the elements. Noah then read his poem, “Spring,” which was inspired by Stafford’s poem “Fall Wind.” Another student, Colwyn, read his work, “Burden of the Spiders.”
Finally, the student poetry showcase closed with two readings from Anushka Nair, who had recently appeared on Oregon Art Beat to discuss her participation in the book. She thanked her family as well as Ooligan Press, and she touted Paulann Petersen as her “steady current” who encouraged her whenever she felt doubt. Later in the evening, she confessed that her life has been “turned upside down” since being published in We Belong in History—but in the best way. Poetry is an important part of her life, and as a Stafford fan, she was excited to be featured in the anthology; she said that Stafford’s “sense of belonging” and “empowering voice” are inspirations for her own work.
As someone who participated in the project toward the tail end of its production cycle, I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride as the event unfolded. This is my second book launch with Ooligan (The Ninth Day being the first), and I was so pleased by the number of unfamiliar faces I saw, not to mention the number of children and teenagers attending with their parents.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank my project team and especially my project manager, Michael. I thank my colleagues in the graduate program as well as our professors, Abbey Gaterud and Per Henningsgaard, for their support and insight. I thank Paulann Petersen for her enthusiastic contributions to the book, and I am especially grateful to the educators who worked tirelessly to get their students involved. Last but not least, I would like to thank the students whose poetry I had the pleasure of reading during the production cycle. We worked together and wound up creating something beautiful. A family book, indeed.