Kim StaffordPhoto courtesy Oregon Humanities

Peace Through Poetry

Oregon’s new poet laureate

Seldom does the phrase “like father, like son” refer to such stately titles as poet laureate. But following his late father’s footsteps, Kim Stafford has just been appointed the next poet laureate of Oregon.

Kim Stafford’s father, William Stafford, was named consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970 — the national position now called the U.S. poet laureate; in 1975, he was named poet laureate of Oregon.

The poet laureate is the poetry ambassador for the state. The laureate visits schools, libraries and other institutions to share, educate and promote poetry.

“I want to spread the gospel of poetry,” Stafford tells Eugene Weekly in a phone interview. “I think of poetry as an invitation to pay attention and to think deeply.”

To become poet laureate, Stafford, who lives in Portland and teaches at Lewis and Clark College, had to be nominated. After the nomination, a statewide committee organized by the Oregon Cultural Trust interviewed the top candidates. Then, the committee presented their recommendation, and the governor appointed the new poet laureate. Every two years, the state has a new voice in poetry, Stafford says.

Stafford uses his voice to share interesting insights on everything from FDR to the American political scene.

He originally went down a different path from his well-known father by writing stories and essays.

That’s because when he wrote poems, he would hear his father’s voice instead of his own.

After college, he eventually found his own voice in poetry that differed from his father’s; his father was at heart a Kansas man and favored a plain style of writing.

“I’m from Oregon,” Stafford says. “I like a little bit more excitement, pizazz, singing, ranting and raving.” Stafford says his father used to shake his head and remark how different the two were and that it was a good thing.

Despite their differences, Stafford loved his father’s poetry. When they read poems together, Stafford says they gave the audience a range of experience because of their variations in style.

“He would read his terse little wonders and I would get up there and ‘sing a song,’” he says.

As Stafford begins to fill the role his father once had, he is pursuing ambitious goals.

“I want language to be the fundamental alternative to violence in the world,” he says. “I think writing is a place where people can find each other and develop solidarity.” Stafford feels helpless with all the problems in the world and wants to use writing to help.

As poet laureate he also wants to advance the idea that poetry is a human’s native language and everyone is welcome in the world of writing.

“I think poetry is a way to live in that realm of magic words throughout your life,” Stafford says.

In the weeks following Stafford’s beginning his new position, he will receive requests from different organizations around the state. Stafford will visit any location that invites him. He wants to go everywhere he can.

Stafford will also set up a website with poems, writing prompts and links to writing resources for the places he cannot visit. He hopes to travel to Eugene at some point.

Each person who holds the title of poet laureate brings a different gift, Stafford says. He has been nominated for the position twice before and says he was happy with the other people who had been chosen.

“I feel very fortunate my time has come,” Stafford says.

I Am the Seed

Every chance I get, any place I fit,

in a cleft of grit, in ravine or pit

by ancient wit my husk I split —

I am the seed.

I fell to the ground without a sound,

by rainfall drowned, by sunlight found,

by wonder crowned, by luck profound —

I am the seed.

After fiery thief, after bout of grief,

though life is brief I sprout relief,

with tiny leaf, beyond belief —

I am the seed.


I am the seed, small as a bead.

Tell me your need. Your hunger I’ll feed —

any trouble you’re in, I will begin,

for I am the seed!

Up I rise, seek the prize

from all that dies by bold surprise,

before your eyes, small and wise —

I am the seed.

Comments are closed.